On October 14th youth climate activists took the stage at the TED Countdown conference in Edinburgh, during a panel discussion with Royal Dutch Shell CEO, Ben van Beurden.

TED Countdown positions itself as a global initiative to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis. This event was described as working towards “a world that is safer, cleaner and fairer for everyone”. Activists raised concerns with TED Countdown organisers that a fossil fuel company has no place speaking at a climate event. Despite their calls to remove van Beurden from the panel, he was allowed to retain his speaking slot on the main stage.

Outraged by the continued inclusion of an oil and gas giant, which is directly profiting from accelerating the climate crisis and has taken no meaningful climate action, activists disrupted the panel alongside Edinburgh locals organising a protest in front of the conference centre. After pointing out Shell’s role in the murder of activists and the suffering it has caused, they walked in front of the stage holding banners with the phrase “No future in fossil fuels” and proceeded to walk out, emphasising that fossil fuel corporations have no place in a conference about creating a liveable future.

The facts on Shell

Shell is the largest Europe-based oil and gas company and the 7th largest polluting company in the world. Despite being ordered by a court to nearly halve its total emissions, it has decided to appeal the court’s ruling rather than take action.

Shell, alongside Siccar Point Energy, is also actively seeking permission to develop the Cambo oil field, West of Shetland, which is expected to extract up to 170 million barrels of oil – the emissions equivalent of 18 coal-fired power plants running for a year. Van Beurden himself defended the new Cambo oil field development and framed its cessation as no more than a “symbolic” gesture for climate change, directly contradicting the International Energy Agency’s Report warning there can be no new investment in oil, gas and coal projects if we are to stay below the 1.5 degrees target agreed in the Paris Agreement.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Stop Cambo Field (@stopcambo)


While pledging to decarbonise, alongside BP, Shell has also secretly funded lobby groups that push politicians to limit action on climate breakdown. It is clear Shell has no real commitment to reducing its emissions, and allowing them a platform at TED Countdown is nothing more than another opportunity for greenwashing of the fossil fuel industry.

Daze, Climate Justice Activist and Creative Director, said:

My family is from the Niger Delta, and I know the harm Shell has caused and continues to cause by pushing us closer and closer to climate devastation. This action is the youth saying enough is enough, asking the hard questions and demanding answers. We need Shell to commit to stopping the future harm caused by projects like the Cambo oil field, but also addressing the past harm like the murder of Indigenous activists. Without this, Shell is not part of the future we need.

Shell has a long history of violence and extractivist colonialism. From the murder of the Ogoni nine in the early 1990s and the severe pollution that still harms over 40,000 people in The Niger Delta, to the numerous health issues experienced by those in the surrounding areas of the Mossmorran natural gas plant in Scotland, to extreme environmental degradation that continues to decimate marginalised, BIPOC and Global South communities around the world.

Bryce, Scottish Activist and Organiser, said:

Where I live in Mossmorran we are directly suffering from the effects of Shell’s pollution. Now we are allowing the man responsible for contaminating the air in my hometown the privilege of sitting in an air-conditioned hall, and talking about the future.

Oil & gas CEOs are not who we need to be hearing from

There are countless voices from frontline, marginalised, Global South and BIPOC communities that should be amplified during this time. These are the people who have contributed the least to this crisis, but already feel the worst effects of climate breakdown. Not in a distant, hypothetical future, but right now. It is these communities whose voices should be centered and elevated, we do not need to hear from a CEO of one of the main companies causing this destruction.

Platforming fossil fuel corporations won’t produce change but will provide greenwashing. Shell’s actions show that as long as there is money to be made from extraction, this is where their priorities will always lie. Their court appeal and attempts to open the Cambo oil field clearly demonstrate that climate justice is not something they’re concerned about. Platforming them, and any other oil and gas industry executives, at a climate event will not benefit the climate justice movement in any way, but will provide good image management and greenwashing PR for Shell.

It’s also worth noting, this event took place on Children’s Environmental Health Day (CEH Day). Children face increasing rates of chronic diseases, mental health challenges, and developmental concerns linked to environmental hazards and climate change, and children from lower-income and BIPOC communities are placed at disproportionately higher risk due to environmental injustices and racism. For example, Black Americans are three times as likely to die from asthma than white Americans, studies show that BIPOC people breathe more nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and children under 5 bear 88% of the global burden of disease due to climate breakdown.

If events are serious about climate justice, they shouldn’t amplify the voices of those causing the problem 

As a platform that prides itself on pushing thought and conversation forward, the idea that TED panels featuring oil and gas executives will create change is not particularly imaginative. We need a clear, credible plan to wind down production and deliver a just transition that is driven by workers and those who are most affected by the climate crisis. We don’t need empty words from those who already hold extortionate power at the top.

Fossil fuel companies, of any kind, should not be welcomed at events that claim to focus on climate justice. It is disrespectful to frontline activists – many of whom were not invited to this event and are unable to attend COP26 due to vaccine apartheid – as their communities are directly harmed by the decisions of these CEOs. Van Beurden’s inclusion as a speaker suggests that these companies are part of the solution, but they are not. They should be held accountable for their crimes against humanity and be dismantled, replaced by a just transition that centres frontline communities, workers, and the voices of those who are most affected by climate breakdown.

I hope this will lead to a future where fossil fuel CEOs and unethical, destructive corporations are never invited to these events again. Let us remove their social license to operate. Let us bring down every one.

Photo credits: Alice Aedy