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10 July 2020updated 09 Sep 2021 2:34pm

Greening the future, today

General manager of nature-based solutions at Shell answers questions about his organisation’s response to the Paris Agreement and the climate challenge

By Alex Nevill

How is Shell helping customers reduce their carbon footprints?

Providing low carbon energy solutions for customers is a key part of Shell’s ambition to be a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050 which, importantly, includes emissions from our customers’ use of our products as well as those from our operations.

We’re doing this in a number of ways, giving customers choice depending on their needs and circumstances. This is based on the “avoid, reduce, mitigate” hierarchy for emissions where solutions start with those that avoid emissions in the first place. If that’s not feasible then next in line comes a focus on reducing emissions. And finally, there’s the option to offset or mitigate those emissions that are otherwise difficult to manage or abate.

So, if you take road transport as an example, for “avoid”, we’re offering recharge points at more and more Shell retail sites across Europe and other countries including the USA. We’re also investing in hydrogen to supply those who have made the switch to fuel-cell electric vehicles. But we recognise that the internal combustion engine is going to be around for a while yet. From customer research we also know that customers want to reduce their carbon footprint, to play their part as they are concerned about their impact, but may not be able to afford a battery-electric vehicle or have concerns over range, or availability of hydrogen, so they continue to use their existing car. Blending biofuels helps reduce emissions, but that still leaves the petrol and diesel parts. This is where the “mitigate” option is important. So here in the UK, we’re now giving drivers the chance to offset their emissions by refuelling at Shell. We have a similar offer in the Netherlands, with offerings in Germany, Austria and Switzerland to follow later this year.

The solutions are not only for road transport. Shell is also investing in wind and solar power, and more gas, which reduces emissions compared with coal. There are also some sectors where the use of oil and gas can’t currently be avoided. Take heavy industry – chemicals, steel and cement manufacturing, for example, that require intense heat. For these cases, Shell continues to invest in and promote carbon capture and storage. Another example is aviation, where mitigation will be important, at least until other lower carbon solutions become available at the cost and scale required.

What kind of solutions are Shell exploring to help mitigate carbon emissions?

This is where nature has an important part to play. This of course is not new – nature has been absorbing and storing carbon on Earth for millennia – but it offers huge potential, is affordable and widely available at scale today. In fact, studies show that nature could help deliver more than a third of what is needed to fulfil the Paris Agreement. Better still, if you do it right, there are the multiple knock-on benefits in addition to its carbon, including for biodiversity and local community livelihoods.

There are a number of ways we can work with nature to enhance or maintain its capacity to store carbon over time. This includes protecting existing natural ecosystems that are under threat, for example in areas in south-east Asia and the Amazon basin. These have been in the news recently because of the clearing and burning of tropical rainforest with the associated loss of biodiversity, and high carbon emissions. Here Shell buys carbon credits from projects that protect or maintain the rainforest by funding alternative business models, an initiative often referred to as “REDD+” – an acronym for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, which is a UN-brokered programme that aims to tackle this destruction.

There’s also huge potential in regenerating or restoring natural ecosystems. The need for reforestation is much talked about at the moment. We work with LandLife in Spain and have partnered with Forestry and Land Scotland to restore parts of Glen Garry. But it’s not just about trees and we are looking at other ecosystems like peatlands and mangroves which are important natural carbon sinks and have great potential.

With all these opportunities, we ensure they meet internationally recognised carbon standards to ensure that the projects not only deliver the required carbon outcomes but also promote other important benefits like enhanced biodiversity, improved ecosystems and social livelihoods. We don’t do this alone, but work with a range of partners – governments, private sector and local non-governmental organisations – drawing on their expertise and experience, including working with local communities.

Isn’t this just an example of greenwashing on Shell’s part?

This is a question that I often hear. There’s nobody in Shell that claims nature-based solutions are the only solution to climate change. For me, the important thing is to look at the whole, rather than any solution in isolation. I’m a great believer in technology delivering on climate change and we see evidence of that all around us today. We see increased investment in wind and solar energy, which are now becoming more competitive and being rolled out on a greater scale. We see more battery-electric vehicles and more charging points. All this is much needed but of course it will take time to be deployed on a global scale. Then we have other parts of energy demand where there simply aren’t low carbon solutions available today. I mentioned before aviation as one example. So, we have this challenge with time – time needed to deploy existing solutions and to develop new technologies where they don’t yet exist. This is where the potential for nature to absorb and store carbon can play a vital role, not least because it’s widely available right now. So, you have a choice. Do you continue to invest in deploying existing low carbon technologies at scale? Do you continue to invest in research and development for those parts of the energy systems that don’t yet have low carbon solutions? Or do you invest in nature? The answer, of course, is that this is not an “either… or…” dilemma, but more an “and… and… and…” imperative to do all three, because none of them individually is going to deliver what will be needed overall. And that is exactly what Shell is doing, investing in all three. Nature-based solutions are not the whole solution, but they are without doubt part of the solution.

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