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Shell’s Gamesmanship: Governments Should Intervene in Carbon Markets

Bill DiBenedetto | Tuesday December 1st, 2009 | 3 Comments

shellExpecting a full-blown global carbon trading market to emerge without the influence, intervention – or perhaps interference – of world governments is probably not possible and Shell’s new CEO is acknowledging this.

Peter Voser told The Guardian and its Environment Network, BusinessGreen, that regional markets alone cannot set the price of pollution and that action should be taken at the governmental level to make costly green projects, such as carbon capture and storage, economically viable.

The idea of a carbon tax is gaining some support from politicians in the UK and France as the Copenhagen summit on climate change begins Monday.

Voser cited Shell’s CCS project in Australia as an example. The Aussie government has set a carbon tax, or a minimum price of carbon. “That is a way of making sure it gets the support,” he said in the interview.

Businesses such as Shell, which until recently has opposed government intervention in carbon markets, are revising their opinion after experiencing the complications of Europe’s emissions trading scheme.

Are governments prepared to act in unison to set a minimum carbon price in order to make low-carbon emission alternatives such as CCS and nuclear plants more viable? It’s hard to envision, but it certainly won’t happen without the cooperation of business.

Voser contends that government intervention would be needed for only a few years. “Over the long term the market should be capable of working out the CO2 price,” he said in one of his first interviews since taking the top job at Shell last summer. “But I can see a scenario where in the first few years you have to intervene to get the market going. I should not be opposed to that.” He did not elaborate on what a minimum price should be.

According to a Greenpeace statement, “Shell is accepting what everyone else has known for a long time – that you can’t rely on the European Union’s emissions trading scheme to deliver technologies like CCS.”

Shell’s reversal on government-set carbon pricing could be seen as part of a wider-ranging re-tuning of its of its green strategy.

Shell recently sold its stake in Germany’s Choren Industries for undisclosed reasons. Choren, based in Freiburg, is building the first cellulosic ethanol plant using non-food materials as feedstock. The plant, which has a planned commercial operation date of 2010, will produce about 15,000 tons of biomass-to-liquid fuels annually, using mostly wood products and wood-based waste.

On Shell’s decision, Choren said, “The parties agreed not to disclose any information on the general business-related background to this transaction.”

Shell sold the minority interest in the project it acquired in 2005 to other remaining shareholders, including the carmakers Daimler AG and Volkswagen AG.

Then this week, Voser bluntly said second-generation biofuels are unlikely to be in widespread commercial use for another decade despite strong research and development efforts from companies and governments. He told the Financial Times it would be a number of years yet before a commercially proven plant was operational.

That could explain the Choren dumping: Shell’s game is always about quick returns, but this biofuel shell game was taking too long.


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  • factsplease

    Regarding Choren, the plant in Freiburg produces a synthetic diesel fuel, not cellulosic ethanol. If the reporter screws up essential facts, it calls into question his pure conjecture.

  • Truth

    Choren wasn't dumped. They initiated the discussion to buy out Shell's shares, and had been trying to achieve this for a long time.

  • Truth

    Choren wasn't dumped. They initiated the discussion to buy out Shell's shares, and had been trying to achieve this for a long time.