A Shell shareholder meeting at the Excel conference centre in London was disrupted when climate change protesters attempted to storm the stage.
A handful of protesters tried to rush the stage, but suit-clad members of the security team in London linked arms to shield chairman Sir Andrew Mackenzie and chief executive Wael Sawan.
Campaign group Fossil Free London later claimed responsibility for the rush, while many other groups sang songs and chanted anti-oil and gas slogans during the scuffle. Fossil Free London is a campaign group that works to raise awareness about the environmental and social impacts of fossil fuel investments.
Even before protesters tried to force their way onto the stage, Sir Andrew was unable to officially open the meeting as they shouted "shut down Shell" for the majority of the first hour.
Throughout the four-hour event, there were tense exchanges between the board and the protesters as well as with shareholders who wanted the company to take more action to reduce its environmental impact.
About 50 minutes into the meeting, the stage was stormed, and as security escorted one woman out, she appeared to pass out. One woman screamed that she was being hurt by the three men carrying her out of the room.
Dozens of protesters - who needed to own Shell shares to enter the building - were carried out of the room, one of whom was still yelling "climate criminals" while being held by the arms and legs by three security personnel.
Protesters were repeatedly escorted out one at a time by security. But as soon as one protester left, another joined in, continuing the disruption. As protesters were ejected throughout the course of the meeting, the audience grew smaller.
Sir Andrew also mistakenly requested security to eject a non-protesting shareholder who had stood up to demand that the meeting proceed.
But even after the protestors were removed, it wasn't an easy ride for Shell's top brass, with shareholders given the opportunity to submit questions, many of which focused on the company's history of pollution and what they perceived as its inadequate plans to reduce emissions.
What was the purpose of the meeting?
The tumultuous scenes came as shareholders were asked to vote on Shell's environmental report. Most did, but an alternative plan which was proposed by activist investors at Follow This secured 20.2% of the votes, Shell revealed.
Follow This is an activist shareholder group based in the Netherlands known for engaging with oil and gas companies, including Shell, to push for stronger climate action and a transition to renewable energy. The group specifically focuses on shareholder resolutions and aims to mobilise investors to support climate-related proposals during company meetings.
Turning his back on the board, founder Mark van Baal said that his plan would make Shell’s climate ambitions clearer and stronger. “I will not waste any more time, I will not waste anyone’s time today in trying to convince the board,” he said, with his back to Sir Andrew and Sawan.
“Instead I will address our fellow shareholders: Dear shareholders, your board is only determined to cling to hydrocarbons because you, shareholders, allow them to do so. Because you shareholders continue to vote against change.” But Sir Andrew argued that van Baal’s plan would harm, rather than help, Shell’s ability to “help the world.”
The targets it contained would “weaken our business,” he added. “It would force us to reduce the numbers of customers we serve, and most importantly who we hope to decarbonise,” he told shareholders. “It would reduce our ability to help the world through our decarbonised products to cut carbon emissions.”
He asked shareholders to vote against the resolution. According to the results, they heeded his advice, yet a not insignificant number of them voted to kick him off the board.