What happens when a climate activist, a Shell executive and an investor share the same scene?


Disclosure: My transportation and boarding during the TED Countdown event was paid for by philanthropic donations to TED.

What does it look like for a CEO of an oil company – or really any company that contributes significantly to climate change – to be held accountable?

This week’s TED Countdown talk offered a potential answer to the question. During the event, Lauren MacDonald, a Scottish climate justice activist, joined Ben van Beurden, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, and Chris James, co-founder of impact investment group Engine No. 1, on stage for a conversation.

“I just want to start by saying that you should be absolutely ashamed of yourself for the devastation you have caused to communities around the world,” MacDonald told van Beurden during the panel. “You are responsible for so much death and suffering. I’m not even going to ask you to change because I know that would be a missed opportunity.

The conversation was not originally part of the program, but climate justice activists pushed event planners to include more voices in the conversation that initially only included van Beurden.

“Having Lauren MacDonald, a member of the StopCambo campaign, on stage was essential for the discussion on the impact of the oil industry on the planet and on communities,” said Lindsay Levin, co-founder of Countdown and CEO of Leaders’ Quest, a non-profit organization. focused on helping businesses “align profit with goal”, in response to emailed questions for this story. “We hope this will spark more opportunities for new kinds of dialogue to hold this industry accountable.”

StopCambo’s goal is to prevent the British government from drilling for new oil in the North Sea, near the Shetland coast.

On stage, the panel was designed as an opportunity for each of the speakers to share their “engagement strategies with the acceleration of the energy transition”. Christiana Figueres, founder of the Global Optimism group and central figure in the Paris Agreement negotiation who animated the conversation, called on van Beurden to share first.

(The full conversation can be found on the TED Blog here.)

Speaking, van Beurden said that although Shell has shared a strategy to become a net zero business by 2050, oil and gas production is still part of the company’s mission because “the world still uses oil and gas “.

The CEO noted that Shell’s approach to energy transition is to use its historic business – oil and gas – to fund its renewable energy efforts.

“This does not mean that we want to keep [the legacy business],” he said.

But the question arises: how long will Shell be able to keep this work, which is wreaking havoc on the earth, before it is too late?

The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that inaction by governments and businesses is no longer an option. On the TED scene, Shell has been pushed to be more aggressive in its climate strategy.

“This is not an abstract problem, and you are directly responsible for these deaths,” MacDonald said in his response to van Beurden, highlighting deaths linked to the impacts of the climate crisis, such as pollution, extreme heat and weather disasters. . “If you’re going to sit here and say that you clearly care about climate action, why are you currently appealing the recent court ruling that Shell needs to cut emissions by 45% by 2030? “

After his remarks, MacDonald left the stage to join the protesters outside the room. The tension in the event space was palpable.

And throughout the event, the feeling MacDonald brought to the stage was part of other discussions – some in breakout sessions and more informal conversations between attendees and others who were also on stage.

Towards the end of the event, climate activists Xiye Bastida and Shiv Soin shared a list of demands that they and other young people developed over the week (pictured above).

Elsewhere Рon stage with Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Gonzalo Mu̱oz, who has been appointed by the Chilean Presidency and the United Nations as a high-level climate champion for the COP25 РLaurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation, expressed her hopes for what will come out of COP26.

First of all, Tubiana said, “Tell the truth. We are not here [on addressing the impacts of climate change]. Be transparent. Be honest. Honesty is a condition of trust and hope. … Really show your maps, get your data, show what you’re going to do, plans for – not 2050 but 2030 and immediately.

Tubiana also stressed the need for activism. “We need to speed up now. We must revisit these climate plans every moment, not wait [until] 2023 or 2025. It’s now, ”she said. “You have to be serious. “

Let’s see what is happening at COP26.


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