Oil multinational Royal Dutch Shell must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent, compared with 2019 levels, by 2030, so as to be in line with the requirements established in the Paris Agreement on climate change. This was the historic ruling handed on on Wednesday, 26th May by a district court in The Hague, in The Netherlands.
The outcomes of legal action against Shell
The lawsuit was filed in April 2019 by a coalition of environmentalist organisations – Friends of the Earth Netherlands, Greenpeace Nederland, ActionAid, Both Ends, Fossielvrij NL, Jongeren Milieu Actief, and Waddenvereniging – on behalf of 17,379 citizens. Their arguments centred around the Paris Agreement on climate change, which sets out to contain the rise in global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees centigrade compared to pre-industrial levels, doing everything possible to remain below the 1.5-degree threshold. By continuing to invest billions in the production of energy from fossil fuels, say the plaintiffs, Shell is breaching its duty of care and violating human rights.
The oil company has already announced its climate plan for 2050. According to the judges in the Dutch court, however, the plan “is not concrete and is full of conditions”. In short, “it’s not sufficient”. Hence the requirement to reduce emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, with the company also being held responsible for so-called Scope 3 emissions, meaning those linked to its supply chain and the consumption of its products.
Through a press release, Shell reiterated its commitment to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 and announced its intention to appeal the ruling.
Setting an important precedent
According to Donald Pols, director of the Dutch branch of Friends of the Earth, this is a “a monumental victory for our planet, for our children and a big leap towards a livable future for everyone. Shell is contributing to dangerous climate change and must stop its destructive behaviour now”. Roger Cox, the environmentalist group’s lawyer, believes that this legal action sets an important precedent. In fact, this is the first time that a court determined that a major company and polluter should keep in line with the requirements of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Therefore, it can’t be ruled out that other similar rulings could follow.
Greenpeace Nederland responded enthusiastically to the ruling. “This verdict is a historic victory for the climate and everyone facing the consequences of the climate crisis,” declared interim director Andy Palmen. “This verdict is a clear signal to the fossil fuel industry. Coal, oil and gas need to stay in the ground. People around the world are demanding climate justice. Today the court confirmed that the fossil fuel industry cannot continue their climate pollution. We can hold multinational corporations worldwide accountable for the climate crisis”.
Palmen’s sentiment is echoed by Alessandro Giannì, campaign director for Greenpeace Italia, who notes how just a few days ago the International Energy Agency published a report tracing the path to climate neutrality by 2050. The roadmap clearly states the need to end investments in new fossil fuel projects and new coal power plants.