All those years ago when I earned my keep in the oil patch, I was fortunate to toil for Shell Canada. I was paid well, enjoyed generous benefits and excellent training opportunities, progressed successfully and made lifetime friends. 

Furthermore, I always felt I worked for a responsible company, including environmentally. Oil is a dirty business, but Shell’s leases were clean enough to picnic on. And years before Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, Shell produced a film entitled Climate of Concern in which it warned about climate change “at a rate faster than at any time since the end of the ice age—change too fast perhaps for life to adapt, without severe dislocation.”

Despite its awareness of global warming, it continued to produce oil and gas. Habits are hard to break, particularly when your product is highly profitable and the masses demand it.

But that has changed. A few years ago the company sold sold most of its stake in Alberta’s tar sands, and when former Alberta Premier Notley revealed her climate change plan, which included a carbon tax, the president of Shell Canada stood on the stage along with other executives, academics, environmentalists and First Nations’ leaders.

Its disengagement with fossil fuels continues. It is aiming at net zero from the production of its products by 2050, including all the energy it consumes itself. It recognizes that the big challenge is its customers’ emissions from the use its products. To deal with the latter it intends to shift toward more products that have a lower carbon intensity, such as renewables, biofuels and hydrogen. Its goal is to reduce the net carbon footprint of the energy products it sells by 65 percent by 2050.

To achieve this goal, it has set “unconditional targets.” Executives’ pay, and that of its staff, is linked in part to achieving the targets.

The company estimates that because of rising living standards and population growth, world energy demand will increase by 50 percent by 2060. Its targets are aimed at meeting this demand while staying within the 1.5 degree temperature rise set by the Paris Agreement. It bases its goal on reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Oil and natural gas for heating homes, transportation and electrification are going to be in demand for a while yet whether we like it or not. The fact that one major supplier of those products recognizes the need to meet the 1.5 rise in global temperature challenge is encouraging. Others in the industry are doing less than even make the attempt.

Whether Shell is worried about the environment or about stranded assets hardly matters. It is trying. It is doing what I would like to see my province doing—systematically transitioning to a green economy. Shell CEO for premier?

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