‘Shell knew’: oil giant’s 1991 film warned of climate change danger (Intermediate B1/B2)

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Public information film unseen for years shows Shell knew of global warming 26 years ago, but did not act, say critics

The oil giant Shell issued a clear warning of the risks of climate change more than a quarter of century ago in a 1991 film that has been rediscovered.

However, since then the company has invested heavily in dirty oil reserves and helped pressure governments against taking climate action, leading to claims that Shell knew the risks of global warming but ignored them.

Shell’s 28-minute film, called Climate of Concern, was made for public viewing, mainly in schools and universities. It warned of extreme weather, floods, famines and climate refugees as fossil fuel burning warmed the world. The serious warning was “supported by many scientists in their report to the United Nations at the end of 1990”, the film noted.

“If energy levels were raised again, no country would remain unchanged,” it says. “Global warming is not yet certain, but many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible. Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.” 

A separate 1986 report, marked “confidential” and also seen by the Guardian, notes the large uncertainties in climate science at the time but still states: “The changes may be the greatest in recorded history.”

The predictions in the 1991 film for temperature and sea level rises and their impacts were very accurate, and Shell was one of the first major oil companies to accept the reality and dangers of climate change.

But, after this early view of the risks of global warming, Shell invested billions of dollars in highly polluting tar sand operations and in the Arctic.




Damian Carrington 



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