Shell Understood Climate Change as Early as 1991-and Ignored It

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

In 1991, a 28-minute documentary titled “Climate of Concern” was produced and distributed by Shell, the self-described “global group of energy and petrochemical companies.” The film addressed the possibly drastic consequences of climate change, while commenting that “global warming is not yet certain, but many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible.” Recently the documentary has resurfaced, after being obtained and posted online by Jelmer Mommers and Damian Carrington in a set of joint reports for the Correspondent and the Guardian. As Mommers and Carrington document, Shell’s actions since 1991 have often undermined climate change efforts, instead of trying to combat climate change as its own documentary urged. Mommers and Carrington quote HSBC’s former global head of oil and gas, Paul Spedding (now at the think tank Carbon Tracker) who notes that “as things stand, Shell’s oil production is destined to become heavier, higher cost, and higher carbon, hardly a profile that fits the outlook described in Shell’s video.”

This hypocrisy mirrors that of the ExxonMobil scandal, reported two years ago. In July 2015, the Guardian reported that internal company e-mails revealed that ExxonMobil knew, “as early as 1981 of climate change–seven years before it became a public issue… Despite this the firm spent millions over the next 27 years to promote climate denial.”

Shell’s documentary addresses the need for action on climate change. When asking how societies can cut down on carbon emissions, the documentary offers alternative energy options: nuclear, hydroelectric, solar and wind. However, Shell has consistently undermined the production of renewable energy for its own financial gain. One recent example was documented in an April 2015 Guardian article, which revealed that Shell successfully lobbied to “undermine European renewable energy targets ahead of a key agreement on emissions cuts” reached by the EU in 2015, to ensure that its gas investments would remain lucrative.


Jelmer Mommers, “Shell Made a Film about Climate Change in 1991 (Then Neglected to Heed Its Own Warning”, The Correspondent, February 28, 2017,

Jelmer Mommers and Damian Carrington, “If Shell Knew Climate Change Was Dire 25 Years Ago, Why Still Business as Usual Today?”, The Correspondent, February 28, 2017,

Damian Carrington and Jelmer Mommers, “Shell’s 1991 Warning: Climate Changing ‘at Faster Rate Than at Any Time since End of Ice Age”, Guardian, February 28, 2017,

Damian Carrington and Jelmer Mommers, “‘Shell Knew’: Oil Giant’s 1991 Film Warned of Climate Change Danger,” Guardian, February 28, 2017,

Student Researcher: Clare Charlesworth (University of Vermont)

Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (University of Vermont)