It would take the average British worker over 640,000 years to earn as much as Shell did in 2023.
Shell has announced it made £22.4bn profit in 2023, despite lower energy prices. While the profit may be 30 percent less than its all-time high in 2022 because of lower energy prices and demand, the oil giant still increased its dividend by 4 percent, and extended its share repurchases.
Shell CEO Wael Sawan, who took up the post in September 2022, said: “In 2023, Shell returned $23bn to shareholders. In line with our progressive dividend policy, Shell is increasing its dividend by 4%. We are also commencing a $3.5bn buyback programme for the next three months.
“We have already achieved one billion in structural cost reductions, well on our way to a reduction of $2–3bn by the end of 2025,” he added.
To mark the announcement, environmental activists gathered outside Shell’s headquarters in London, hosting a mock company party. Dressed as Shell board members, the Greenpeace activists drank non-alcoholic champagne, fanned wads of money in the air, and danced to the conga around a burning sign that read ‘Your Future.’
The activists oppose the fossil fuel giant’s huge profits in a year which saw global temperatures reach record levels. Extreme weather linked to the climate crisis wreaked havoc around the world, including unprecedented wildfire in Europe and North America and devastating cyclones in southern Africa.
The environmentalists note how Shell’s announcement came after January saw some of the worst flooding the UK has witnessed in decades, with the Met Office warning that climate change will increase the likelihood and intensity of future floods. It also came just days after colossal wildfires in Columbia led to a state of emergency.
Maja Darlington, a Greenpeace UK campaigner said it would take the average British worker over 640,000 years to earn as much as Shell did in 2023.
“While Shell shovels over $20 billion to shareholders and drills for yet more oil and gas, climate disasters are multiplying and hitting hardest those who have done the least to cause the crisis.
“Our government must make oil companies like Shell stop drilling and start using their immense wealth to pay for the damage they are causing, before all our futures go up in flames.”
In 2023, Shell’s boss Wael Sawan came under fire for abandoning plans to cut oil extraction each year for the rest of the decade. Sawan claimed that reducing fossil fuel production, which is considered crucial in limiting the rise in global temperatures, risked worsening the cost-of-living crisis by limiting global energy supplies and pushing up bills. Climate campaigners described the suggestion as ‘cynical.’
Jamie Peters, the head of climate at Friends of the Earth, said it was “utterly ironic for Shell to be calling anything ‘dangerous and irresponsible’”.
“Let’s be clear, companies like Shell are fuelling both the climate crisis and the soaring cost of energy. They are profiting from the misery of ordinary people while destroying the planet, and they’re making a cynical case to continue locking us into the volatile fossil fuel markets that are the root cause of the energy crisis,” Peters said.
As Shell continues to bask in profit, the company has started making layoffs. In a push to boost performance, in mid-January, the oil giant began to make hundreds of job cuts, with positions in its low-carbon solutions division among the first to go. The cuts are part of Sawan’s commitment to refine the company’s performance and elevate shareholder value.
In November, the CEO promised shareholder payouts in 2023 of at least $23bn, over six times as much as they planned to spend on renewables last year, as Greenpeace reports.
The December 2023, Shell launched a multimillion dollar lawsuit against Greenpeace, following a peaceful protest in the same year, which involved the activists occupying a moving oil platform.
In what is one of the biggest legal threats against Greenpeace in its 50-year-plus history, Shell is demanding around $1 million in damages, as well as legal costs that could rise into the millions.
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward
Image credit: Chris J Ratcliffe / Greenpeace