Oil giant Shell was aware of the consequences of climate change, and the role fossil fuels were playing in it, as far back as 1988, documents unearthed by a Dutch news organisation have revealed.
They include a calculation that the oil company’s products alone were responsible for 4 per cent of total global carbon emissions in 1984.
They also predict that changes to sea levels and weather would be “larger than any that have occurred over the past 12,000 years”.
As a result, the documents foresee impacts on living standards, food supplies and other major social, political and economic consequences.
In The Greenhouse Effect, a 1988 internal report by Shell scientists, the authors warned that “by the time the global warming becomes detectable it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even to stabilise the situation”.
They also acknowledged that many experts predicted an increase in global temperature would be detectable by the end of the century.
They went on to state that a “forward-looking approach by the energy industry is clearly desirable”, adding: “With the very long time scales involved, it would be tempting for society to wait until then before doing anything.
“The potential implications for the world are, however, so large that policy options need to be considered much earlier. And the energy industry needs to consider how it should play its part.”
The collection of 38 documents was unearthed by Jelmer Mommers, a climate and energy journalist for the Dutch news organisation De Correspondent.
They have since been published on the Climate Files website, which is sponsored by environmental activist organisation the Climate Investigations Centre.
The emergence of the documents coincides with activists at Friends of the Earth Netherlands threatening to sue the oil giant and force it to cut down on its fossil fuel investments.
Similar documents have previously emerged concerning ExxonMobil’s knowledge of climate change.
In both cases, critics pointed out that the documents contrasted sharply with the public stand the companies took on climate change throughout the 1990s.
Another document found by Mr Mommers, titled The Enhanced Greenhouse Effect and released in 1994, shows a shift in Shell’s outlook.
It emphasises uncertainties in climate science, stating that “any policy measure should take into account explicitly the weaknesses in the scientific case”.
Shell issued a statement in response to the publication of the documents:
“The Shell Group’s position on climate change has been a matter of public record for decades.
“We strongly support the Paris Agreement and the need for society to transition to a lower carbon future, while also extending the economic and social benefits of energy to everyone. Successfully navigating this dual challenge requires sound government policy and cultural change to drive low-carbon choices for businesses and consumers. It requires cooperation between all segments of society.”