Oil giant Shell warns public faith in fossil fuel industry is 'disappearing' and calls for carbon taxes

‘I do think trust has been eroded to the point that it is becoming a serious issue for our long-term future’

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Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is to increase its spending on renewable energy to $1bn (£800m) a year, its chief executive announced as he warned the public’s faith in the industry was “just disappearing”.

Ben van Beurden suggested the public backlash against fossil fuel firms could threaten the industry’s future.

He also said it was essential that countries imposed a price on carbon emissions to help phase out the use of coal and oil, sources of large amounts of greenhouse gases that are driving climate change.

This perhaps surprising message – a request from a business for governments to make their costs higher – was delivered at an energy conference in Texas, Reuters reported.

Mr van Beurden was speaking after oil firm Chevron admitted it was at risk of being sued over climate change in an official filing to the authorities in the US.

The company also warned investors there was a risk government regulations could render oil and gas reserves “economically infeasible” to exploit.

Speaking at the CERAWeek conference in Houston, Mr van Beurden appeared to recognise the tide was turning, despite the election of Donald Trump, who has appointed climate science deniers to key positions in his administration.

“If we’re not very careful, with all the good intentions and advocacy that we have, we may, as a sector and society, not make the progress that is needed,” the Shell chief executive said.

“I do think trust has been eroded to the point that it is becoming a serious issue for our long-term future. 

“If we are not careful, broader public support for the sector will wane.

“This is the biggest challenge we have at the moment as a company ... the fact that societal acceptance of the energy system as we have it is just disappearing.”

Mr van Beurden said the firm planned to introduce the increased investment in renewable energy by 2020. The $1bn still only represents a small part of its total annual spending of $25bn.

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