is global in scope, we’re part of the globe and the confession of the head of a
major oil company deserves wider circulation…
THE GUARDIAN: - June 17,
Oil chief: my fears for planet
boss's 'confession' shocks industry
The head of one of the world's biggest oil
companies has admitted that the threat of climate change makes him "really
very worried for the planet".
In an interview in today's Guardian Life
section, Ron Oxburgh, chairman of Shell, says we urgently need to capture
emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, which scientists think
contribute to global warming, and store them underground - a technique called
"Sequestration is difficult, but if we
don't have sequestration then I see very little hope for the world," said
Lord Oxburgh. "No one can be comfortable at the prospect of continuing to
pump out the amounts of carbon dioxide that we are pumping out at present ...
with consequences that we really can't predict but are probably not good."
His comments will enrage many in the oil
industry, which is targeted by climate change campaigners because the use of
its products spews out huge quantities of carbon dioxide, most visibly from
His words follow those of the government's chief
science adviser, David King, who said in January that climate change posed a
bigger threat to the world than terrorism.
"You can't slip a piece of paper between
David King and me on this position," said Lord Oxburgh, a respected
geologist who replaced the disgraced Philip Watts as chairman of the British
arm of the oil giant in March.
Companies including Shell and BP have previously
acknowledged the problem of climate change and pledged to reduce their own
emissions, but the issue remains sensitive, and carefully worded public
statements often emphasise uncertainties over risks.
Robin Oakley, a climate campaigner with
Greenpeace, said: "This is an important statement to make but it does have
to come with a commitment to follow through, and that means making the case to
his peers in the oil industry who are still sceptical of climate change."
Mr Oakley said a gulf was opening between more
progressive oil companies such as Shell, which invests in alternative energy
sources including wind and solar power, and ExxonMobil, the biggest and most
influential producer, particularly in the US.
In June 2002 ExxonMobil's chairman, Lee Raymond,
said: "We in ExxonMobil do not believe that the science required to
establish this linkage between fossil fuels and warming has been
Lord Oxburgh's words will also fuel arguments
over sequestration. Supporters say it will allow a smoother transition to
reduced emissions by allowing us to burn coal, oil and gas for longer. Critics
argue that the idea is an expensive and probably unworkable smokescreen for
continued reliance on fossil fuels.
Last year the Guardian revealed that ministers
were considering plans for a national network of pipelines to carry millions of
tonnes of carbon dioxide from power stations to be buried under the North sea.
"You probably have to put it under the sea
but there are other possibilities. You may be able to trap it in solids or
something like that," said Lord Oxburgh, who claimed even vehicle
emissions could be trapped and disposed of. "The timescale might be
impossible, in which case I'm really very worried for the planet because I
don't see any other approach."
According to a 3,000m (about 10,000ft) ice core
from Antarctica revealing the Earth's climate history, carbon dioxide levels
are the highest for at least 440,000 years.
Lord Oxburgh said the situation is particularly
urgent because many developing countries, including India and China, are
sitting on huge untapped stocks of coal, probably the most polluting fossil
"If they choose to burn their coal, we in
the west are not in a very good position to tell them not to, because it's
exactly what we did in our industrial revolution."
Bryony Worthington, a climate campaigner with
Friends of the Earth, said: "It isn't a responsible attitude to say we're
going to pledge to do sequestration but if the plans don't work out then the
world's messed up. He's done quite a clever job by making it clear he's
concerned but at the same time not pledging to do anything about it."
She called for tougher emission standards for
new vehicles, as well as greater investment in energy efficiency measures and
A former non-executive director with Shell, Lord
Oxburgh was catapulted into the chairman's role after the company was forced to
reveal it had overstated the extent of its reserves. He was widely viewed as a
safe pair of hands.
He followed his long-standing academic career
with spells as chief science adviser to the Ministry of Defence and rector of
Imperial College, London. A crossbench life peer, he still chairs the Lords
science and technology select committee, although he must retire from Shell