Shell protester.

A protester pretends to celebrate outside Shell's London headquarters.

(Photo: Greenpeace U.K./X)

Shell 'Doubled Down on Oil' in 2023 as Planet Burned: Analysis

The company paid nine times more to shareholders than it invested in "Renewables and Energy Solutions."

Oil major Shell paid nine times more to shareholders in 2023 than it invested in its "Renewables and Energy Solutions" program, according to a Global Witness analysis released Thursday.

The analysis comes as Shell announced its total profits both for the fourth quarter of 2023 and for the entirety of the year. The company took home $28.25 billion in adjusted earnings and paid out $23 billion to shareholders. It also raised dividends by 4%.

"Shell chooses shareholders over climate, once again," Sjoukje van Oosterhout, the head researcher for Climate Case Shell at Friends of the Earth Netherlands, said in a statement. "In the last year, $23 billion went to shareholders, and Shell is now adding to that by increasing the dividend by 4%. Without considering the cost to the climate and human lives."

"Time is running out, but Shell refuses to change course and is racing full speed towards the destruction of the Earth."

When accounting for its "Renewables and Energy Solutions (RES)" investments, Shell combines both real climate solutions like wind and solar with investments in gas, hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage, leading Global Witness to file a greenwashing complaint against the company with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year.

Shell spent a total of $2.681 billion on all of these efforts, which was nearly a quarter less than the $3.469 billion it invested in 2022. At the same time, its greenhouse emissions increased by 4%, based on data from Rystad Energy, and will likely climb by another 5% this year.

"Shell's shareholders remain some of the biggest winners of ongoing global instability and reliance on fossil fuels," Global Witness senior campaigner Jonathan Noronha-Gant said in a statement. "The turmoil in fossil fuel markets, caused by war in Europe and the Middle East, has helped Shell rake in enormous profits—but instead of investing in clean energy, the company has doubled down on oil, and gas, choosing climate-wrecking U-turns and shareholder pay-outs."

Shell, like several oil and gas companies, raked in record profits in 2022 following the spike in energy prices precipitated by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. While 2023's payout is less than 2022's nearly $40 billion, it is still Shell's second-highest since 2011, the Financial Times reported. The company also reported its second-highest cash flow in its history at $54.2 billion.

"Profits seem halved, but apart from last year, they have never been higher since 2011," van Oosterhout said. "While people all around, but also in the Netherlands, are struggling to make ends meet, Shell, Exxon, and Total are still benefiting from causing the climate crisis."

Global Witness calculated that the amount Shell paid to shareholders last year would be almost enough to pay off the average 2023 gas and electric bills for all Florida households. Greenpeace U.K. pointed out on social media that the average British worker would need to work for 640,000 years to match Shell's 2023 profits.

2023 was also the hottest year on record, and likely the hottest in 100,000 years, mostly due to climate change from the burning of fossil fuels.

"They are burning our planet and laughing all the way to the bank," Greenpeace U.K. said on social media. "How on Earth is this fair?"

Van Oosterhout argued that Shell's plans went against a 2021 Dutch court ruling ordering the company to comply with the Paris agreement, as well as the COP28 agreement to transition away from fossil fuels.

Van Oosterhout said that Shell CEO Wael Sawan "is still pressing on the brakes when it comes to sustainable investments and in the meantime is still launching major new fossil projects e.g. in Brazil and the Gulf of Mexico. Time is running out, but Shell refuses to change course and is racing full speed towards the destruction of the Earth."

Noronha-Gant, meanwhile, argued that shareholders could not expect to keep profiting from Shell's actions into the future.

"Shareholders be warned that this unstable and short-termist business outlook will ultimately make your investments worthless in the future," Noronha-Gand said. "When the history books are written, Shell and its shareholders will be held accountable for their devastating impacts on global temperatures, displacement of millions, support for dictators, and disruption of food supplies."

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