Though it’s been nearly two decades since some major oil companies began talking about climate change, a former chairman of one such company said he is distressed over how slow global progress has been on the issue.

Sir Mark Moody-Stuart – once the chairman of Royal Dutch Shell PLC – spoke about climate change earlier this month at an event organized by Carbon Trust.

“I find it distressing that 18 years after major oil companies such as Shell and BP acknowledged the threat of climate change and the need for precautionary action, and indeed began to put into place many of the steps needed, the world has made very modest progress in addressing this challenge,” said Moody-Stuart.

“There remain a very wide range of views and a great deal of misunderstanding and even confrontation by those in different parts of society. While there is much convergence in the middle, there are extreme positions taken by some which range from an attitude of ‘it will be alright on the night, no hurry’ to ‘we must immediately stop using all fossil fuels consider any ongoing use is simply morally bankrupt.’ In fact cooperation rather than confrontation is needed across all parts of society.”

Moody-Stuart has a history with Shell that stretches across nearly 40 years.

“After completing a doctorate in geology in 1966 at Cambridge, he worked for Shell starting as an exploration geologist living in Holland, Spain, Oman, Brunei, Australia, Nigeria, Turkey, Malaysia and the UK,” said Moody-Stuart’s bio at Hermes EOS.

He steadily rose in rank through the company before becoming chairman in 1998.

After resigning as Shell’s chair in 2001 (though he remained on the board another four years), Moody-Stuart became the non-executive chairman of mining company Anglo American PLC from 2002 until 2009. He then moved to his current position of chairman at investment firm Hermes EOS.

During his June speech, Moody-Stuart also talked about the mounting fossil fuel divestment movement, which encourages investors to sell stocks and investments connected with coal companies and others in the fossil fuel industry. Following this idea on a more limited basis, said Moody-Stuart, is not “without some rationale.”

“Divestment is an entirely rational market approach if you think that there are better uses for your funds,” he said. “Given the inevitable continued demand for some forms of fossil fuels for some decades to come, divestment of all such holdings is probably not an economically sensible choice for most investors. Selective divestment or portfolio switching certainly is.”

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Moody-Stuart said that while he doesn’t think the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference later this year will result in a comprehensive agreement, he does think that many countries will establish their own individual guidelines.

“This is progress and will doubtless be hailed as an agreement, although one can certainly question whether an agglomeration of diverse commitments can really be hailed as a global agreement,” Moody-Stuart said.

Despite an increase in alternative fuels and renewable energy sources, Moody-Stuart said he doesn’t think these competitors will eliminate the oil and gas industry.

“Ali Naimi, the Saudi oil minister said to me some fifteen years ago that he was very relaxed about renewable energy as competition,” Moody-Stuart explained. “He said that technological development would do what it always does – change things, sometimes unexpectedly. He has recently been quoted as saying that one day Saudi will export not oil but solar energy and that he was relaxed about that too.

“Ali Naimi is older and wiser than me, but my attitude is somewhat the same as his. I think I will be dead well before the oil and gas industry, but it is going to be fun.”


Photo credit: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images