National Theatre to end Shell membership deal amid climate protests

Shell's corporate membership deal will not be renewed upon its expiry in June 2020. Image: the National Theatre

Shell has been financially linked to the National Theatre since 1995, when it sponsored the arts venue’s first annual youth theatre festival. Although this event is now sponsored by the Bank of America, Shell is currently listed as one of the theatre’s corporate gold members, meaning it spends at least £15,000 per year to fund the venue’s activities.

But, this week, the National Theatre has confirmed that Shell will no longer be a partner when its membership comes up for renewal next June.

The confirmation came as the National Theatre declared a ‘climate emergency’, building on an existing carbon-neutral goal for 2050. In a statement, the theatre said it would be setting “ambitious targets to move towards net-carbon-zero on-site”, covering energy, waste, water and the supply chain.

“We create work that is inherently temporary; that makes use of raw materials, of heat, light and sound; that asks people to travel to a particular location at a particular time,” the National Theatre’s statement reads.

“However, we believe theatre can be part of the solution – we tell stories, shape culture and encourage empathy and understanding.”

Curtain call for fossil fuels

The move from the National Theatre comes amid ongoing protests calling on cultural institutions to make ‘climate emergency’ declarations and to align these statements with their investments and partnerships.

Leading this activism are theatre group BP Or Not BP and NGO Culture Unsustained, which recently succeeded in their drive to get the Royal Shakespeare Company to end its deal with BP.

The Royal Shakespeare Company said as it announced the move that it “cannot ignore” the messages it received from young people, who were “saying clearly” to the firm that “BP sponsorship is putting a barrier between them and their wish to engage.”

Greenpeace has also been campaigning for arts and cultural institutions to cut ties with oil and gas firms.

“As the impacts of the climate emergency play out all around the world, the reputational damage of being associated with the industry fuelling the problem far outweighs any financial benefit,” Greenpeace’s senior climate campaigner Mel Evans said. “It’s time for oil giants to get the moral of the story, ditch a business model that’s destroying our world and shift to renewable energy.”

Shell, meanwhile, claims it is already making this change through its continued investment in solar power, wind power, electric vehicle (EV) offerings, smart energy startups and hydrogen.

“The heightened awareness of climate change that we have seen over recent months is a good thing,” Shell said in a statement.

“As a company, we agree that urgent action is needed. What will really accelerate change is effective policy, investment in technology innovation and deployment and changing customer behaviour.”

Nonetheless, Royal Dutch Shell recently confirmed plans to invest in North Sea projects for the first time in six years in a move that will increase the company’s UK oil production by a third.

Sarah George

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