Oil giant Shell reveals new carbon reduction ambitions

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Oil giant Shell reveals new carbon reduction ambitions
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Royal Dutch Shell has revealed new green energy targets a day after a major investor advocated the oil supermajor be split up to help propel cuts to its greenhouse gas emissions.

The FTSE 100 multinational has vowed to halve so-called Scope 1 and 2 emissions from its operations by 2030 against their 2016 levels, in efforts to become a net zero business by mid-century.

It has also promised to end routine gas flaring – the wasteful practice of burning gas emitted by oil production – from its upstream activities within four years rather than by the end of the decade.

Oil giant Shell reveals new carbon reduction ambitions
© Provided by This Is Money

Scope 1 emissions derive from operations directly controlled by an enterprise, while Scope 2 emissions refer to those produced by the electricity, steam, heating and cooling used to power those operations.

Shell said the new goals are designed to help meet the targets set by a court ruling in the Netherlands back in May, which called on the group to slash emissions from all its operations by 45 per cent by 2030.

This includes emissions that are discharged when the firm’s products are burned, known as Scope 3, which the company made no mention about today. Shell is currently appealing against the legal judgement.

The energy giant’s announcement comes the morning after a major hedge fund called for Shell to be divided into multiple standalone businesses for the benefit of both shareholders and the environment.

In a letter to investors, Third Point Capital’s Daniel Loeb accused Shell of adopting an ‘incoherent, conflicting set of strategies’ by trying to satisfy stakeholders of wildly competing interests.

He noted that the company had been divesting from high-carbon assets like refineries but said it was also trying to please some governments who want it to continue investing in oil and gas, and shareholders who like the firm’s investment in fossil fuels. 

Oil giant Shell reveals new carbon reduction ambitions
© Provided by This Is Money

The letter stated: ‘Shell’s board and management have responded to this with incrementalism and attempts to ‘do it all.’ As the saying goes, you can’t be all things to all people.

‘In trying to do so, Shell has ended up with unhappy shareholders who have been starved of returns and an unhappy society that wants to see Shell do more to decarbonise.’

To satisfy all investors, Loeb suggested the firm could be divided into a legacy energy business involving its refining, chemicals and upstream assets and a transition business focused on renewables and liquefied natural gas.

He said the former could concentrate on returning cash to investors and selling off assets while the latter would spend heavily on renewables and other carbon reduction technologies.

Oil giant Shell reveals new carbon reduction ambitions
© Provided by This Is Money Green ambition: ‘Shell’s pledge to halve emissions by 2030 is a major win for climate activist investors who want it to become greener, said eToro analyst Mark Crouch (Pictured: Silicon Solar Ranch Farm in Tennessee, USA)

The New York-based activist investor believes this setup would not only quicken Shell’s attempts to curtail carbon dioxide emissions but also lead to higher returns for shareholders.

Mark Crouch, an analyst at investment platform eToro, said: ‘Shell’s pledge to halve emissions by 2030 is a major win for climate activist investors who want it to become greener, but will no doubt frustrate those shareholders who want it to capitalise on what it does best.

‘This internal struggle over what Shell wants to be – an oil supermajor or a green energy giant – has led to calls for the Anglo-Dutch firm to be split into two. However, that remains an unlikely prospect at present.’ 

In addition to publishing new decarbonisation targets, the oil company revealed its third-quarter results today, showing it made an adjusted net profit of $4.1billion and record cash flow of $17.5billion thanks to a rebound in oil and gas prices.

Oil giant Shell reveals new carbon reduction ambitions
© Provided by This Is Money

Net debts also shrunk by $8.2billion from the previous quarter to $57.5billion, having been over $75billion at the end of last year when the coronavirus pandemic sent demand for oil plummeting.

Shell plans to lower its debts further by finalising the $9.5billion sale of its Permian basin shale assets to American energy corporation ConocoPhillips, which was agreed in late September. In addition, it will distribute more than £5billion in proceeds from the sale to shareholders.

Nicholas Hyett, an equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said the Permian Basian sale is ‘clear evidence the group is taking steps towards a cleaner, greener future. 

‘However, with several oil and gas fields also approved in the quarter, investors shouldn’t kid themselves that Shell will stop being an oil and gas group any time soon. With oil prices where they are, that may be no bad thing for the bottom line.’ 

Shares in the company were down 2 per cent to 1,733.2p at midday on Thursday.

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