UN Accused of Promoting 'Greenwash' by Supporting Shell's Solution to Climate Change

Oil in the Niger Delta

The UN has been called out for acting as a mouthpiece for oil giant Shell in a tweet campaigners have slammed as evidence of the conflict of interest inside the international organisation overseeing global climate policy.

UN Climate, previously known as the UNFCCC, was accused of “greenwashing” after it promoted the oil giant’s vision for how the world can move away from fossil fuels and oil.

In its latest “Sky” scenario, Shell set out its vision on how to limit the global temperature rise to “well below two degrees” compared with 1990 level.

In a series of tweets, UN Climate secretariat, which facilitates global climate negotiations between countries, directly linked and quoted from Shell’s report.

While the company described its latest climate scenario as “radical”, environmentalists have criticised the report for failing to meet the aspirational 1.5 degree goal of the Paris Agreement advocated by UN Climate. 

Shell’s scenario would see global CO2 emissions reach “net zero” by 2070 – falling short of the 2050 target needed to meet the Paris Agreement’s aim of “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees”.

The half degree margin is expected to make a significant difference on the planet with impacts of a two degree warming reported to be much worse in some places than a 1.5 degree warming.

UN Climate propped up Shell at a time when the company is also facing calls by activist shareholders to take stronger action on global warming.

Pointing to the conflict of interest, Jesse Bragg, a spokesman for NGO Corporate Accountability told DeSmog UK the tweet was a “questionable” use of the UN’s body communication channel and showed UN Climate was keen to remain in the good books of fossil fuel companies.

Unfortunately, UN Climate has been heading into this direction for a long time… They prefer to take fossil fuel corporations – largely responsible for the climate crisis – at their words, that they want to do good. But the facts suggest a different reality,” he said.

Meanwhile, Shell’s report was also called out as “hypocritical” by environmental campaigners who pointed out to Shell’s devastating environmental and human rights record in places such as the Niger Delta, in Nigeria.

Conflict of interest

Transparency campaigners have long demanded UN Climate adopt a clear set of guidelines for fossil fuel companies and lobbyists to declare any conflict of interests within the negotiation process.

Bragg described UN Climate's “tacit endorsement” of Shell’s latest scenario as another example of the issue at stake.

He told DeSmog UK Shell’s “Sky” scenario was neither consistent with the Paris Agreement nor had it been endorsed by Shell as a blueprint to shift the company’s business model.

Therefore, it’s just greenwashing,” he said. “It’s an advertisement for Shell to be in the news.”  

UN Climate's secretariat is meant to be there to carry out the will of governance, not to promote the PR or greenwashing of any corporations – let alone one that is responsible for human and environmental abuses,” he added.

Developing countries made progress on demanding a conflict of interest policy last year against resistance from the world’s biggest economies including the EU, the US and Australia.

Although no policy has yet been agreed, the issue is a key agenda item for international negotiators meeting in Bonn later this month.

For Bragg, UN Climate's tweet sets the stage for where its secretariat stands on the issue, despite repeated calls for action by governments and NGOs.

He added: “As we move forward with climate action, we can’t forget the past of a corporation like Shell.”

Hypocrisy’: Shell’s environmental and human rights record

UN Climate also came under fire for promoting Shell in spite of the company’s poor environmental and human rights record.

In the courts, Shell and oil major Eni are facing prosecution for alleged bribery in connection with a $1.3bn payment to gain control of a Nigeria oil field in one of the biggest corruption trials in the energy industry for years.

Akinbode Oluwafemi, deputy secretary director of the Nigerian NGO Environmental Rights Action, works in the Niger Delta region where communities are fighting Shell to clean up the pollution of a major oil spill which happened a decade ago.

For Oluwafemi, UN Climate's visible support for Shell is unacceptable. Denouncing Shell’s “hypocrisy”, he said: “It is not this sort of greenwashing and the publication of glossy reports that is going to solve global warming.”

This is extremely opportunist and turning the global community’s attention away from what the company’s activities really are.

We are now talking about this report when people are still dying in the Niger Delta, living in ongoing pollution and suffering from diseases. What Shell needs to do for the world to take them seriously is to stop pollution and human rights abuses.

But in the Niger Delta, we have no reasons to trust them,” he added.  

In a report published last month, Amnesty International pointed to “evidence of serious negligence” by Shell claiming the oil giant was taking “weeks to respond to reports of spills and publishing misleading information about the cause and severity of spills, which may result in communities not receiving compensation”.

Oluwafemi called for UN Climate to immediately adopt a set of guidelines about conflict of interest and to “kick out” big polluters such as Shell out of the UN negotiation process.

UN Climate did not respond to DeSmog UK’s request for comment.

Shell’s forecast

Big oil companies have set out their visions for the future of energy use before.

Yet, forecasts have repeatedly under-estimated the scale of action required to avoid dangerous warming.

Shell has been no different. Scenarios published by the company in 2013 would have seen warming far in excess of the internationally agreed limit of two degrees.

Commenting on Shell’s latest scenario, energy experts said the company’s projections would still see temperatures rise to around 1.7-1.8C, above the Paris Agreement’s aspirational 1.5C goal.  

Moreover, Shell says that achieving the two degree target probably means sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere using technology called carbon capture and storage, which remains unproven at scale today.

Image Credit: Friends of the Earth International/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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