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Former Shell Chairman Calls For Fossil Fuels To “Change Profoundly”

Chairman of the Carbon Trust and former chairman of Shell UK James Smith has called on oil and gas companies to “change profoundly over the next couple of decades … if costly climate damage is to be avoided.”

Writing exclusively for BusinessGreen, James Smith explains that fossil fuel energy companies need to begin “tackling climate change” sooner, rather than later.

“Realistic assessment shows it is unlikely we can get all the energy we need in mid century without fossil fuels, even with much better energy efficiency, nuclear and immense growth in renewable energy,” writes Smith, who is the chairman of Carbon Trust, an independent company dedicated to helping organizations reduce their carbon emissions, and become more energy efficient. Carbon Trust has over 160 experts working around the world, partnering with leading organizations and helping them “contribute to and benefit from a more sustainable future through carbon reduction, resource efficiency strategies, and commercializing low carbon technologies.”

Importantly, one of those important technologies is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology.

While the reality may be that we can’t go on without some use of fossil fuels in the immediate decades ahead, Smith is adamant that “we can’t go on using fossil fuels in the same way” as we have been — which means we need to start developing technologies that clean up fossil fuels. Of the three technology themes Smith highlights for low carbon energy, CCS is the third, and as Smith notes, “is based on technologies that have been around for decades.” Carbon Capture and Storage technology is going to have to play a part, if for no other reason than to combat the entrenchment of fossil fuel energy generation. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, according to Smith, “estimates that the cost of avoiding climate change could more than double without CCS.”

In fact, recent research from the University of California at Berkeley has found that “the large-scale utilization of electricity generated from biomass partnered with carbon capture technology … could result in greatly reduced emissions and a ‘carbon-negative’ power system in the western US.” The study’s lead author, Daniel Sanchez, also noted that “carbon reduction might even offset the emissions from fossil fuel used in transportation.”

“There are a lot of commercial uncertainties about carbon capture and sequestration technologies,” Sanchez admitted. “Nevertheless, we’re taking this technology and showing that in the Western United States 35 years from now, [bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS)] doesn’t merely let you reduce emissions by 80 percent – the current 2050 goal in California – but gets the power system to negative carbon emissions: you store more carbon than you create.”

But CCS doesn’t really or usually have any effect on the oil used for transport, leading James Smith to ask the question, “what should oil and gas companies do?”

“They can’t be expected to abandon shareholder value. But farsighted companies should judge that it is better for shareholder value if climate change is tackled sooner rather than later. Sooner means less damage to the environment and economies. Sooner means more time for governments to make sound, globally connected policies. Sooner gives more time for companies to develop competitive low carbon technologies.”

Smith continues, concluding that “it’s in the enlightened self interest of oil and gas companies to argue for tackling climate change,” calling for the “whole industry … to strength its voice” by advocating “even-handed, market-based policies that will stimulate innovation and move the immense resources required for low carbon energy.”

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I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.


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