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No sooner had Shell CEO Ben van Beurden delivered remarks at the TED Countdown Summit in Edinburgh, trumpeting Shell’s efforts to combat the climate crisis, did a fellow panellist look him in the eyes and tell him he should be “absolutely ashamed with himself.”
Lauren MacDonald, a young climate activist, had waited patiently for her turn to speak. When the microphone was handed to her, the picture she painted of the oil giant told a much different story than the one van Beurden had described moments before.
Shell is the seventh-largest polluting company on the planet, and she noted it is currently seeking a bid to develop the Cambo oilfield, a controversial drilling project in the North Sea. The project is set to extract up to 170 million barrels of oil per year. That, along with the company’s alleged involvement in the murder of the Ogoni nine in the early 1990s and its recent appeal of a Dutch court decision ordering Shell to cut emissions by 45 per cent, made van Beurden an unfit guest for the event, said MacDonald.
She looked the oil industrialist in the eye and said, “I hope that you know that we will never forget what you have done, and what Shell has done.
“I hope you know that as the climate crisis gets more and more deadly, you will be to blame.”
She then left the stage with demonstrators who had positioned themselves below as she spoke, holding up a banner that read, “No Future in Fossil Fuels.” They walked out of the auditorium, urging the audience to join them, with some following suit.
The idea for the panel was to bring together three people who share “commonalities” — namely, the desire to accelerate the energy transition, even if they have differing opinions about how to get there, said host Christiana Figueres, who was the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change during the 2015 Paris Agreement. Van Beurden and MacDonald were also joined by Chris James, co-founder of Engine No. 1, an investment firm that ousted three members of Exxon’s board earlier this year.
Stop Cambo, a U.K.-based group that organized the protest at the TED conference, said it reached out to TED organizers once they heard of van Beurden’s involvement. Francesca, a campaigner with the group, said the action was necessary to emphasize why they believe fossil fuel companies should never be invited to climate events.
“It is disrespectful to front-line activists — many of whom were not invited to this event and are unable to attend COP26 due to vaccine apartheid — as their communities are directly harmed by the decisions of these CEOs,” said Francesca.
“I hope that you know that we will never forget what you have done.” Climate activist @sunfloweryell0w walked out of a #TEDCountdown panel Thursday after refusing to share the stage with the CEO of oil giant Shell. #TED #COP26 #ClimateCrisis
“Van Beurden’s inclusion as a speaker suggests that these companies are part of the solution, but they are not. They should be held accountable for their crimes against humanity and be dismantled, replaced by a just transition that centres front-line communities, workers, and voices of those who are most affected by climate breakdown.”
Held in advance of COP26, the week-long TED event featured talks from numerous climate players, including Canadian climate activist Tzeporah Berman.
The conference — also known as COP, short for Conference of the Parties — has brought the world together since 1995 to hammer out agreements to reduce global warming. The talks gather policymakers, scientists, environmental activists, climate experts, and news media from the 197 member countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to set and work towards global climate change goals. This year, COP26 will take place at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow, Scotland, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12.
The involvement of oil and gas companies at climate events, and specifically at United Nations climate conferences, has long been controversial. At the TED event, van Beurden said he recently got “disinvited” from COP26. The Wall Street Journal reported the same in September, noting both Shell and BP would be excluded from the talks because they didn’t have detailed emissions-reduction plans.
“My family is from the Niger Delta, and I know the harm Shell has caused and continues to cause by pushing us closer and closer to climate devastation. This action is the youth saying enough is enough, asking the hard questions, and demanding answers,” said Daze, a climate justice activist and creative director of Stop Cambo.
“We need Shell to commit to stopping the future harm caused by projects like the Cambo oilfield, but also addressing the past harm like the murder of Indigenous activists. Without this, Shell is not part of the future we need.”