Question: How long do you think the gas industry can survive?
Ben van Beurden: I think oil and gas are going to part of the energy system for a long time to come. If your question was specifically, “how long can your company stay relevant in a changing energy system,” we probably have to change, sooner rather than later.
Q: What happens if we don’t meet the Paris agreement?
BvB: We will meet the Paris Agreement, I am absolutely convinced of that, because I think what is happening in society at this point in time is a degree of mobilisation to make things happen that will eventually become unstoppable. We may not be on track for meeting Paris, but we will come on track, because I do not think society as a whole will stand for failing.
Q: What was your dream job if you weren’t CEO of Shell?
BvB: What I still dream of being is an academic, doing something in science. I was probably not smart enough to do that, but I would love to be back in some sort of academic field.
Q: Is Shell going to invest or venture into space exploration?
BvB: Well, I can be very short on that one: No!
Q: Why isn’t “stop burning fossil fuels” on your to-do list?
BvB: Well, it is actually a little bit on my to-do list. We have to make sure that the world transitions away from hydrocarbons to carbon-free energy. Quite often, of course, that’s not just for us to determine. Bear in mind that of all the emissions in the energy system, probably not more than 15% comes from providing the energy. The other 85% comes from using the energy.
Q: How many trees do we need to plant a year to counter climate change?
BvB: Something like the size of Brazil, as a forest. I believe that one of the key components of a net-zero energy system is going to be nature-based solutions.
Q: Feeling duped by Shell. Greenwashing at its finest. Time to go electric.
BvB: Well, yes, we will go electric. We have to go electric. I don’t think that the things we are doing are greenwashing. If you believe that reducing our net carbon footprint is somehow a ploy to look greener, well the progress that we make in that is linked to my salary and the salary of 200 other Shell colleagues. I don’t think that is greenwashing.
Q: Hi Ben, what is it like to be in charge of a company whose products are threatening the survival of humanity and the natural world?
BvB: Well, I’m also in charge of a company that produces products that have brought untold prosperity, life expectancy and a tremendous amount of capacity for this planet to host billions of people. We have to find a way to continue this journey of bringing prosperity to people who do not yet have access to modern energy while, at the same time, also reducing the downsides of these products.
That’s not an easy challenge, but I think it is a bit too simplistic to say, “we were all better off without you guys.”
Q: How challenging is it to be CEO of Shell?
BvB: After five-and-a-half years, I still find it quite challenging.
Q: Admit you suppressed battery technology
BvB: Really? Is that what you think? We’ve heard these things before. It’s like conspiracy theories that we would also have the ultra-efficient internal combustion engine design locked away in a safe. This is not the way we work or the world works.
We just acquired a company called sonnen that is one of the global leaders when it comes to home-based solar and battery systems.
Q: Do you think I can become an engineer?
BvB: Well, I hope so. We need plenty of engineers in the world. If I can become an engineer, hopefully you can.
Q: What’s next for Shell?
BvB: Well, there’s a whole century ahead of us. A century where we are going to reduce the net carbon footprint of our energy products. Where we are going to be really leaning into the future of energy, playing it closer up to the customer, figuring out how we are going to succeed, also in power, how we are going to be a bigger player in petrochemicals.
But also, how we are going to be a responsible player in oil and gas.
We have to have an open conversation to feel more inspired, whether it’s you or me, to do the right thing because, again, we can only do it together.