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Interview with Shell’s CEO : „Shell needs to change“

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The Netherlander Ben van Beurden, who was born in 1958, is Shell’s CEO since 2014. Bild: Ed Robinson/Shell

Ben van Beurden, CEO of Europe’s biggest oil concern, talks about a turn towards renewable power, the hypocrisy at the stock market and the burning rainforests.

          8 Min.

          Shell is Europes biggest oil and gas company. But now you have the ambition to become the largest supplier of renewable power in the world. Critics say that’s just Greenwashing. What´s your response to that?

          This is a very easy accusation to make. But the point is: We see the energy system changing. When society wants to consume energy products in a different way we as a company need to change with it, if we want to maintain our long-term relevance. The way society consumes energy might not change next year. It might take ten years. But when it gets there we want to be ahead of the curve.

          You don´t want to be an oil company anymore?

          We will remain in the oil business for many years to come. But at the moment about two thirds of the free cash flow in Shell is somehow oil-related. My view is that this is not the right cash flow profile for the second half of this century . I would like to have a company that is less dependent on oil. On the other hand we can’t get ahead of society, because that’s the fastest way to get out of business. You have to be able to make money with the business that you do.

          You are even supporting plans to ban combustion engine cars in Europe in the longer term. Quite surprising given that Shell owns the largest network of petrol stations in the world.

          Sometimes it is going to be a difficult journey, where you have advocate for things that are seemingly somewhat against your vested interests. I have embraced that to be a very important part of my mission as CEO of Shell, because we happen to be in a very critical phase of the energy transition where very important decisions need to be made for the future. We at Shell are trying to chart a course in a changing environment to adapt our business model so that we maintain a strong and relevant company as things change around us. In other words: it is driven by business logic, by business imperative. And it’s not driven by, you know, ‘I need to be liked’. The point is: we need to be mindful what is happening in the world around us. We need to be responding to it.

          And you have decided that Shell needs radical change?

          We have decided that it is not going to be our strategy to keep  ‘stick-to-your-knitting’, excellent-in-oil-and-gas company for as long as the world demands oil and gas products. We are going to be a company that wants to have an energy portfolio that is reflective of society’s needs.

          However Shell is still investing 30 billion dollars a year in its oil and gas business and just 2 billion in green energy.

          By investing up to two billion dollars on average each year —and we said for next decade we will be doing two to three billion dollars a year on average —we will be in the top three investors in renewable energy in the world. So it’s not exactly chicken feed that we are playing with. This is a very significant investment programme. But more importantly: It´s a red herring to focus just on how much we invest in oil and gas production.

          Why?

          The most important point is the carbon footprint of the energy products that we sell – and that it will be consistently lowered. Shell typically sells four times as much oil as we produce ourselves. Because much of the fuel we sell at our petrol stations we buy on the market.

          And that`s why Shell has become the first mayor oil company with a target for lowering the carbon content of the energy it supplies to customers?

          Yes. We have set a target of halving the carbon intensity of our products by 2050. Because if you really want to measure the impact that we have on greenhouse gases you have to look at the footprint of the energy that we put in people’s homes or cars or into the world. And we have to make sure that the energy that we sell is of ever lower carbon intensity.

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