een droog stuk land met verdorde bomen
Drought in Yala National Park in Sri Lanka. The country is experiencing extreme weather due to climate change. (Photo: Chamika Jayasri/Unsplash)

New policies show that Shell is not regretful about the harm it is inflicting on the world, writes master’s student Antonio Küng. TU Delft should draw a conclusion from that.

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During the fossil industry ties deliberation on 5 April last year, a popular viewpoint in TU Delft was shared by Dr Hadi Hajibeygi, Associate Professor of Subsurface Storage: “If the fossil fuel industry comes to you saying ‘I regret my past mistakes but now I want to do my best’, would you not help?” In the five months since that statement was made, TU Delft’s largest fossil industry partner, Shell, has made some serious changes to their climate policy. Have Dr Hajibeygi’s words stood this short test of time?

It is 23 May, one month after TU Delft’s deliberation. At Shell’s 2023 Annual General Meeting, 80% of shareholders voted against aligning the company’s emission plans with the Paris Agreement. In June, two months after TU Delft’s deliberation, CEO Wael Sawan decided to drop Shell’s 2021 commitment to lowering yearly oil production. His goal? To further increase shareholder payouts, the same year that the company reported a record USD 40 billion in profits, double the profits of 2021, and plenty of money to transition to renewable energies and start decarbonising the company. That same June, and despite their budgetary surplus, Shell sold its renewable energy subsidiary. The reason? Not being profitable enough.

These developments should not come as a surprise to anybody. A private company is not motivated by emotions like regret or wanting to do their best, it is motivated by profit and quarterly returns on investments. And if we look at Shell’s 2021 Capital Expenditure Report, it shows that barely 1.5% of its investments go to zero-carbon energy solutions. Meanwhile 90% of expenditure goes towards fossil fuel investments and opening new oil fields, despite Shell themselves showing that new extraction will push us over 1.5 degrees of warming. Indeed, if they would choose to stop new oil extraction, it would turn all of Shell’s oil rigs, pipelines and LNG terminals into worthless stranded assets and cost them billions of dollars in losses, which shareholders naturally want to avoid.

We shake hands with the people responsible for destroying our future

Shell’s current asset portfolio, together with their fiduciary duty to their shareholders, are structural impediments to their green transition. Even after The Hague District Court ordered Shell to reduce its emissions by 45% by 2030, former CEO Ben van Beurden stated that they “have no plans to change strategy despite the emissions ruling”. Instead, the company dropped the ‘Royal Dutch’ from its name and moved its headquarters to London just a few months later. Some of you might have spotted Ben van Beurden at the Aula back in May, as he was a prominent guest at DSC's Momentum, a lustrum event focused on sustainability, of all things. TU Delft certainly seems to be comfortable receiving sponsorships from companies who have been major players in funding climate disinformation for decades. Jeroen van der Veer, former Shell CEO and TU Delft Supervisory Board member until July 2021, funded it himself. Another company involved in climate denial funding was Gasunie, whose Supervisory Board our Rector Magnificus Tim van der Hagen joined back in March.

This summer we got to experience firsthand the harm that Shell and other fossil fuel giants are inflicting on us. In the hottest July in 174 years, ocean surface temperatures broke heat records with Florida sea waters reaching 38°C, causing unprecedented coral bleaching. This is threatening fisheries and the human food supply, at the same time as crop yields are decreasing due to severe droughts. In August, Greece experienced the largest wildfire ever recorded in the EU, and this summer’s European heatwaves are likely to surpass the 61,000 deaths they caused just last year.

There is a general consensus (in Dutch) to reject collaborations with the tobacco industry because they were profiting off harming people’s health and pushing disinformation about such harm. So why do we still collaborate with the fossil industry? Do we need their sponsorship that badly when it only adds up to 0.3% of TU Delft’s total income? Feel free to calculate this percentage yourself using the figures in the TU Delft 2021 Annual Report and the private contribution figures provided by the Executive Board (which are, surprisingly, not publicly available).

Maybe we should spend less time wondering whether the fossil fuel industry is feeling regret for their past and focus more on our own regret. The regret that instead of protecting the future of our children, we shook hands with the people responsible for destroying it.

Antonio Küng is a master's student at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering. Reactions are welcome via

Relevant sources

  • ‘Notice of Annual General Meeting’ – by Shell plc
  • ‘Shell’s AGM: back to fossil fuel business as usual’ – in Stichting Onderzoek Multinationale Ondernemingen
  • ‘Shell drops target to cut oil production as CEO aims for higher profits’ – in The Guardian
  • ‘Shell 2022 profit more than doubles to record $40 bln’ – in Reuters
  • ‘Shell stoot duurzame dochter af: te weinig winst’ – in NRC (in Dutch)
  • ‘Shell’s actual spending on renewables is fraction of what it claims, group alleges’ – in The Guardian
  • ‘Shell still not reporting investments in renewable energy; around 90% in fossil fuels’ – by Follow This
  • ‘Analysis: Shell admits 1.5C climate goal means immediate end to fossil fuel growth’ – by Carbon Brief
  • ‘Stranded assets could exact steep costs on fossil energy producers and investors’ – in MIT News
  • ‘Shell: Netherlands court orders oil giant to cut emissions’ – in BBC News
  • Shell boss: we have no plans to change strategy despite emissions ruling’ – in The Guardian
  • Aftermovie Momentum’ – by Lustrum DSC on Instagram
  • Exxon knew of climate change in 1981, email says – but it funded deniers for 27 more years’ – in The Guardian
  • ‘“Incredibly Disturbing” Docs Reveal Oil Giant Shell Knew About Climate Impacts Even Earlier’ – by Common Dreams
  • ‘Shell, Bayer among multinationals that funded climate scepticism’ – by Follow The Money
  • ‘Tim van der Hagen joins Gasunie’s Supervisory Board’ – by Gasunie
  • ‘Record shattering: Earth had its hottest July in 174 years’ – by NOAA
  • ‘Seawater temperatures in Florida at hot tub levels, experts warn’ – in BBC News
  • ‘Severe drought: western Mediterranean faces low river flows and crop yields earlier than ever’ – by EU Science Hub
  • ‘Greece wildfire declared largest ever recorded in EU’ – in The Guardian
  • ‘Heatwave last summer killed 61,000 people in Europe, research finds’ – in The Guardian
  • ‘Annual Report 2021: Financial report’ – by TU Delft