Worse-than-expected third-quarter profit of $4.13bn comes as major US investor urges firm to break itself up
Last modified on Thu 28 Oct 2021 18.58 EDT
Royal Dutch Shell has set out a target to halve its carbon emissions by the end of the decade following calls by campaigning investors for the company to end to its “incoherent” stance on climate action by breaking itself up.
Shell set out the new carbon target days ahead of the Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow as it revealed worse-than-expected profits for the third quarter, despite a global surge in oil and gas markets.
Climate campaigners said the promised emissions cut was “tokenism” because it applies to only 10% of Shell’s total emissions – those produced by its own operations, such as extracting oil and transporting fuel to forecourts. The other 90% comes from the use of its oil and gas by transport, homes and industry.
The company’s latest results were described as “messy” and “muddy” by analysts after it missed their profit targets for the quarter.
The Anglo-Dutch fossil fuel company was dealt the double blow a day after US hedge fund Third Point, which is led by Daniel Loeb, accused Shell of having “an incoherent, conflicting set of strategies attempting to appease multiple interests but satisfying none”.
The fund, which has reportedly built up a stake in Shell worth close to $750m, called on the company to split itself up into “multiple standalone companies”, including a “legacy” arm focused on oil and gas.
Third Point said its “bold strategy” was likely to lead to an acceleration of CO2 reduction as well as significantly increased returns for shareholders, “a win for all stakeholders”.
Ben van Beurden, Shell’s boss, rebuffed the accusations by claiming that the company had “an incredibly coherent strategy” which would be “very hard to replicate” if Shell were split up.
“A very significant part of the energy transition that we are talking about is going to be funded by the legacy business,” van Beurden said. He added that the strategy was voted on by shareholders earlier this year, with 90% in favour of its plans, and was “well understood by the majority of shareholders”.
Shell’s share price tumbled by almost 2% on Thursday after it reported a profit of $4.13bn (£3bn) for the last quarter, well below the $5.42bn predicted by analysts, and short of the $5.5bn reported in the previous quarter, even as its cashflows reached a new record of $17.5bn.
The company was not able to take full advantage of soaring international gas prices because many of its supply contracts were agreed in advance at lower prices, and production problems at its liquefied natural gas plants in the wake of Hurricane Ida led to weaker gas volumes.
Shell plans to grow its gas business in the years ahead, despite setting a target to become fully net zero for carbon by 2050 with the help of low-carbon businesses including renewables and hydrogen.
Green campaigners called on the company to urgently reduce its total global heating impact.
“Targets for operational emissions are tokenism,” Mark van Baal, a climate campaigner said. “Operational emissions are around 10% of Shell’s total emissions. The elephant in the room consists of the emissions that occur when fossil fuels are burnt. Setting targets for operational emissions is like a tobacco producer who promises to smoke less himself while continuing selling more cigarettes.”
The new climate target has emerged months after a Dutch court ordered the company to speed up plans to cut its emissions in line with global climate targets, which Shell plans to appeal.
It also comes days after Dutch fund ABP, one of the world’s largest pension funds, announced that it would sell its entire holdings in fossil fuel companies, including shares in Shell, to protect long-term savings from the impact of the climate crisis.
Shell plans to grow its gas business by more than 20% in the next few years. The strategy includes a modest fall in oil production, by selling oilfields or through the natural decline of their reserves, and an increase in gas production and gas exports to the global market.
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