Shell has been active in the Niger Delta since the 1930s, leaving the people of the Niger Delta with little more than sorrow, tears and blood. Shell’s presence alongside other multinational oil companies led to loss of livelihoods, and conflicts that led to loss of lives and property.
Thirty years ago the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), led by Ken Saro-Wiwa declared that Shell was no longer welcome to operate in Ogoniland, arguing that others had grown rich on the oil, while pollution from spills and gas flaring had “led to the complete degradation of the Ogoni environment.” The military government hanged Saro-Wiwa and 8 other Ogoni leaders. In 2009, Royal Dutch Shell agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle a lawsuit accusing it of helping to arm Nigerian police, and helping the government capture Saro-Wiwa and other protesters..
An independent report by industry watchdog Platform found that “Shell has fuelled armed conflict in Nigeria by paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to feuding militant groups” and that forces hired by Shell perpetrated atrocities against local civilians, including unlawful killings and systematic torture”. Shell denied this, just as it has denied accountability to communities ever since it arrived in Nigeria.
This quest for accountability continues, and is now even more important as Shell plans its annual meeting and tries to get its investors to support its plan to tackle climate change.
The most recent official climate science report found that half of the world’s population are highly vulnerable to the climate crisis. The next few days will tell whether Shell and its major investors feel more accountable to these people on the frontlines of climate change, or to the imperative of making money at all costs.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently said that some government and business leaders are “saying one thing and doing another … they are lying. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.” The world ought to move to renewable clean sources, fast, but only one in eight of Shell’s investment dollars are going into clean energy, while the vast majority go on more gas and oil.
Shell’s climate strategy falls far short of what the world needs in other ways, too. The company has set out no absolute emissions targets for this decade, the next one or the one after that. 2050 targets are meaningless. To justify a huge scale up of gas production, Shell is betting on a vast and improbable scale-up of carbon capture and storage and of nature-based offsets in the next 10 years.
Soon after last year’s AGM a Dutch court found that the same Shell plan which many investors had just voted for “largely amount to rather intangible, undefined and non-binding plans for the long-term”. The court concluded that Shell is endangering people’s right to life and ordered Shell to cut its carbon emissions by 45% by 2030, starting immediately. Shell’s bosses didn’t feel accountable, didn’t change the company’s strategy, and appealed the verdict.
There are signs that investor sentiment on Shell is shifting. The Church of England Pensions Board, which championed Shell’s plan last year, announced that it would step down from leading engagement with Shell as part of the $68 trillion Climate Action 100+ initiative. It is welcome that the Church is withdrawing its moral support. Shell’s AGM on 24th May will show the world where other investors stand. We stand ready to hold them accountable.
Mr.Leo Atakpu is Deputy Executive Director, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, Benin City, Nigeria.