Shell foresaw climate dangers in 1988 and understood Big Oil’s big role

A Dutch journalist has uncovered Royal Dutch Shell documents as old as 1988 that showed the oil company understood the gravity of climate change, the company’s large contribution to it and how hard it would be to stop it.

The 1988 report titled “The Greenhouse Effect” calculated that the Shell group alone was contributing 4 percent of global carbon-dioxide emissions through its oil, natural gas and coal products. “By the time global warming becomes detectable it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even to stabilize the situation,” the report warned.

The report, written by members of Shell’s Greenhouse Effect Working Group, said that scientists believed that the effects would become detectable late in the 20th or early 21st century.

Shell’s working group knew three decades ago that climate change was real and formidable, warning that it would affect living standards and food supplies and have social, economic and political consequences.

The working group also warned that rising sea levels could impair offshore installations, coastal facilities, harbors, refineries and depots.

The documents contrast with Shell’s public stance on climate change during the 1990s, when the company was a member of the Global Climate Coalition. The industry group raised doubts about the science of climate change and opposed the Kyoto Protocol, the global agreement reached in 1997 to fight climate change.

The 1988 report estimated that in 1981, 44 percent of carbon-dioxide emissions came from oil, 38 percent from coal and 17 percent from natural gas.

“With fossil fuel combustion being a major source of CO2 in the atmosphere, a forward looking approach by the energy industry is clearly desirable, seeking to play its part with governments and others in the development of appropriate measures to tackle the problem,” the report said.

(Excerpted from Washington Post 4/5/18