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21st Jun 2021

Shell loses 'historic' climate case, must cut emissions by 2030

  • Climate activists argued Shell violates human rights by knowingly undermining international climate goals. The court agreed (Photo: Shell)

A Dutch court made a landmark ruling on Wednesday (26 May) that energy giant Shell must reduce CO2 emissions by 45 percent in the next decade.

The decision marks the first time an oil company is being held liable for climate change.

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  • Shell said it will appeal the “disappointing” court decision (Photo: Municipal Archives of Trondheim)

Shell is one of the world's largest multinationals in the oil sector, alongside fellow giants BP, ExxonMobil and Total.

The Dutch arm of NGO Friends of the Earth, Milieudefensie, launched the lawsuit against Shell in 2019 - backed by other six NGOs and some 17,200 individuals as co-claimants.

The case was brought before a civil court in The Hague, claiming the company's current policies violate human rights by knowingly undermining international climate goals.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, the first-ever universal and legally-binding climate accord, countries pledged to reduce their carbon emissions and halt global warming below two degrees Celsius, and aimed to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees warming.

"This verdict is an enormous step forward for the international climate movement. One of the world's biggest polluters has finally been held responsible," said Donald Pols, director of Milieudefensie.

Shell is the largest polluter in the Netherlands, emitting twice the total greenhouses gas emissions of the entire country.

The court ruled that CO2 emissions produced by the company contribute to global warming, posing dangerous consequences for residents of the Wadden area, and the human rights of people in the Netherlands - namely to the 'right to life' and 'undisturbed family life'.

Earlier this year, the British-Dutch company announced new targets to reduce its emissions by 20 percent by 2030, 45 percent by 2035 and 100 percent by 2050, compared with 2016.

Previously it committed to reducing the carbon intensity of its products by 30 percent by 2035 and by 65 percent by 2050 - arguing that these targets were aligned with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Under the ruling, Shell is obliged to reduce its emission by 45 percent by the end of 2030, compared to 2019.

Also the subsidiaries

Meanwhile, the court also concluded on Wednesday that Shell is responsible for its subsidiaries and its supply chain partners, and therefore, for their emissions - for which it "can and must" take responsibility.

Shell should try to reduce emissions from its suppliers through a new corporate policy, since their current strategy is not "concrete enough," the court also said.

As legal climate cases are increasingly being brought all over the world, Milieudefensie's lawyer Roger Cox said that this ruling could be used as an "example" for further climate litigation worldwide.

"This is a turning point in history. This case is unique because it is the first time a judge has ordered a large polluting company to comply with the Paris climate agreement," he said.

"And not only that. Oil companies will become much more reluctant to invest in fossil polluting fuels," he added.

Many hope that this verdict will trigger "a wave of climate litigation against big polluters" to force them to stop extracting and burning fossil fuels, said Sara Shaw from Friends of the Earth International.

Reacting to the verdict, Shell said that it would appeal against the "disappointing" court decision.

The Urgenda case, in which the court ordered the Dutch government to reduce its emissions by at least 25 percent by the end of 2020, created a "historic precedent" by ruling that a failure to achieve climate goals is a human rights violation.

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