THE BLOG

We've Kicked Shell Out of the Arctic, and for Now, This Battle Is Won

28/09/2015 16:01 BST | Updated 28/09/2016 10:12 BST

Exit, pursued by a polar bear.

As Shell announces the decision to walk away - for the "foreseeable future" - from its dreams of Arctic riches, or at least bookable oil reserves in the ice-covered seas off the Arctic coast of Alaska, environmentalists are unsurprisingly celebrating. The immediate risk to the fragile Arctic environment has been averted, and any oil that is beneath the seafloor there won't be burnt, further fuelling the fires leading to dangerous climate change. Shell CEO Ben van Beurden will have to make another personal journey, this time back from Alaska, to try to figure out where next to take not just his troubled company, but the industry of which they are a part.

But take a step back from this moment, with the undeniable financial and reputational costs of Shell's hubris - over $7billion already spent, plus additional future write downs - and some other questions begin to emerge. It is of course no surprise that there is oil in the Arctic. What is surprising is that it took so long for Shell to realise that the risks of extracting it were just too great. Cost, the difficult regulatory environment (driven in large part by the international campaign by Greenpeace and others) and close scrutiny from investors finally convinced the key decision makers within the company that they could no longer profitably sell this particular dream to a range of stakeholders, who are now beginning to realise that no matter what Shell claims, projects like this aren't part of the solution to our energy challenges, they are part of the problem.

There were plentiful downsides to Shell's Arctic adventures. It wasn't just the risk of oil spills that couldn't be cleaned up in a fragile - and highly valuable - local environment. It wasn't just the threat to the local livelihoods - and way of life - for indigenous people who live across the Arctic region. It wasn't just the inevitable impact on the climate that would come from all that oil, were it ever to make it to the market. A hugely significant, and on-going, risk is the commitment of all that capital (both financial and political) being expended on the wrong projects at the wrong time.

The oil industry is facing an existential crisis, and Shell is leading the response: Shell is desperate to be seen as part of the solution to challenges of climate change - and CEO Ben van Beurden appears to have hinted that Arctic drilling undermines these aspirations. This realisation, which appears to have come as a shock to the CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world, was no surprise to the more than seven million people around the world who have called for an end to Arctic drilling. Indeed, van Beurden was reportedly "taken aback" at the scale of the protests.

But Shell, Exxon and BP all know that their business plans are incompatible with avoiding dangerous climate change. Success for the oil industry, no matter how they try to spin it, no matter who they convince to sit on their commissions, no matter how often they propose a range of inadequate solutions, will continue to mean a climate crisis and huge impacts on the poorest, most vulnerable communities in the world

Shell's retreat from the Arctic is important - not just because it shows that the power and leverage of the industry is starting to weaken, for a whole variety of reasons, but because as a movement we have refused to let governments and regulators just wave their plans through.

All over the world, people have mobilised to oppose Arctic drilling.

As we speak, there is a giant mechanical polar bear sitting outside Shell's HQ in London. Aurora, as she's known, has been there for a month, representing the seven million people who mobilised to fight Shell's Arctic drilling plans.

We said we'd keep her there as long as Shell was drilling.

Well, we've kicked Shell out of the Arctic, and for now, this battle is won. Now this bear, and this movement, is starting out on a new journey: she's going to Paris, where the nations of the world will soon gather to negotiate a deal on climate change. Shell's defeat shows which way the wind is blowing. This bear is travelling to Paris as proof that when we come together to assert our power, we can win extraordinary victories in the fight against climate change.

Charlie Kronick is a senior climate adviser at Greenpeace UK