What Shell knew about climate change in 1991

What Shell knew about climate change in 1991

In 1989, the organization changed the design of a drilling platform in order to take account of extreme weather and rising sea levels.

Shell produced a report on global warming called ‘Climate of Concern’ in 1986. In 1991 they made the video documentary for the public. It warned that trends in global temperatures raised serious risks of famines, floods and climate refugees.

But in the quarter century since, Shell has continued to invest heavily in fossil fuels. 

Already in the eighties, Shell understood that climate change would affect its own operations. In 1989, the organization changed the design of a drilling platform in order to take account of extreme weather and rising sea levels.

Although the multinational realized that global warming because of CO2 was a giant risk, the oil giant frustrated climate actions. In 2015 Shell planned to invest $75 billion of high-cost, high-carbon projects like oil sands. Shell wanted to act responsibly, but also found that it did not have to bear the heaviest burden in finding a solution, because ultimately only international cooperation between governments could solve this problem.

The Correspondent

Last Tuesday, ‘the Correspondent’ published the reconstruction based on confidential internal documents and investigations in the lobby of Shell. The reconstruction simultaneously appeared in the Guardian and the Danish Daily Information.

Internal documents show that the oil company already knew in 1986 that oil and gas can disrupt the climate. The company warned:

“the relatively rapid and dramatic changes in the Earth’s climate, would have an impact on the living environment of people, their future standard of living and food supplies, with potentially major damage and economic and political consequences. Possibly the environment will be affected and some parts of the earth will be uninhabitable,” Shell wrote in the internal study.

However, the company continued investing in fossil fuels. In addition, they argued consistently against an ambitious climate policy, because this would harm business interests.


Inconvenient Truth

The multinational produced the film ‘Climate of Concern’ in 1991, which warned of the dangerous consequences of global warming.

In terms of tone, the film is quite similar to ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, the Oscar award-winning climate documentary made by former presidential candidate Al Gore fifteen years later. In the documentary Shell warns that “now action is needed. Its the only safety insurance we have”. The video was shown worldwide in schools and universities.

In 1996, climate change was described to the management in a briefing as “the most serious and complex environmental issue we have faced ever.”


However, in the nineties, Shell participated in a campaign that deliberately sowed doubts about climate science, according to the Correspondent. The deployment of this campaign was to avoid “draconian” government interventions. Last year, US congressmen have asked for criminal investigation into the contributions made by Shell to the lobbying campaign.

For years, they said that the company developed a lot of green initiatives. But since 1998, the budget stayed only 1% of the total investments, says the correspondent.

In the same period, the company invested tens of billions in the extraction of oil and gas in areas that were previously inaccessible, such as the Arctic and deep-sea areas.

Environmental policy

Journalist Jiri Mommers has spent a year investigating Shell and its environmental policy. He asked dozens of Shell employees about how they see the future of the company.

In a reaction the oil and gas giant announced that their position on climate change is well known.

“We recognize the climate challenge and the role that energy plays ensuring a good quality of life. Shell will continue to call for effective policies to reduce CO2 emissions and features government-set rates such as carbon emissions and trading system.”


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