Saturday

13th Apr 2024

Legal battle over oil giant Shell's emissions begins

  • Climate activists argue Shell is violating human rights by expanding its fossil-fuel operations (Photo: Shell)

A group of environmental organisations on Tuesday (1 December) began a legal battle against the energy giant Shell, arguing current policies violate human rights by knowingly undermining international climate goals.

The British-Dutch company is one of the world's largest multinationals and one of largest in the oil sector, alongside BP, ExxonMobil and Total.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Shell is one of the world's largest oil companies - alongside BP, ExxonMobil and Total (Photo: the_riel_thing)

The Dutch arm of Friends of the Earth, Milieudefensie, together with other six NGOs and 17,200 individuals co-claimants, brought Shell to court earlier this year, demanding the company reduce its emissions by 45 percent by 2030 (on 2019 levels) and to zero by 2050.

The plaintiffs argue that the multinational is violating their duty of care and threatening human rights by expanding its fossil-fuel operations and investments, knowingly undermining the world's chances of limiting global temperatures to 1.5 degrees, as agreed under the Paris Agreement.

"We are confident that the judge's final verdict will force Shell to adhere to international climate goals and stop causing dangerous climate change," Milieudefensie director Donald Pols said, ahead of the first of the four hearings taking place this month.

"The company has got away with greenwashing for too long," he added.

Shell previously announced it will stick to the Paris Agreement targets, reducing the carbon intensity of its products by 30 percent by 2035 and by 65 percent by 2050, compared with 2016.

However, according to environmental activists, that is "far from sufficient" since the company could achieve these goals without actually reducing its production and sale of fossil fuels, but simply by making additional investment in renewables.

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

The 'Urgenda' case

The outcome of this lawsuit, whichever way it goes, will set standards on climate litigation in European courts.

The environmental group feels that the so-called 'Urgenda' case has increased their chances as it created a "historic precedent" by ruling that a failure to achieve climate goals is a human rights violation.

In this landmark decision, the court ordered the Dutch government to reduce its emissions by at least 25 percent by the end of 2020.

"[The Shell] case is part of a growing movement of climate litigation around the world. If successful, we expect it to spark similar cases in other countries against other companies," Sara Shaw from Friends of the Earth International told EUobserver.

"It also represents a huge amount of pressure on other oil and gas companies to change their ways to fall in line with the urgent need for a just transition away from fossil fuels," she also said, pointing to the fact that around 100 corporations are responsible for the majority of global emissions.

"We agree with Milieudefensie that action is needed now on climate change. None of which will be achieved with this court action. Addressing a challenge this big requires a collaborative and global approach. Shell is playing its part," a Shell spokesperson told EUobserver.

Meanwhile, the oil giant Shell has faced a string of European court battles this year regarding alleged crimes committed in Nigeria since the 1990s, ranging from complicity in illegal executions to systemic environmental damage in the Niger Delta.

Feature

Dutch case opens new era for climate-change litigation

Legal action related to climate change is set to grow considerably in the next few years - especially after a largely-overlooked ruling over Christmas by a Dutch court forced the government to reduce its emission by 25 percent by 2020.

Dutch court forces government to cut emissions

The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and the environment has said "this is the most important climate change court decision in the world so far, confirming that human rights are jeopardised by the climate emergency."

EU emissions down 24% on 1990 - but still off 2030 target

Emissions regulated under the EU's carbon market fell by 9.1 percent in 2019, although aviation emissions continued to increased. Meanwhile, the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to lead to "an unprecedented fall in emissions" in 2020.

Exclusive

Italian energy giant director advising EU foreign policy chief

Italian multinational oil and gas company ENI has a board member advising the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell. The European Commission appears to have been kept in the dark over the affair until NGOs starting asking questions.

Opinion

Calling time on Amazon's monopolism and exploitation

As Amazon's founder Jeff Bezos just reclaimed the title of the richest person on Earth, its workers cannot even take a bathroom break under the pressure of meeting inhumane performance targets.

Latest News

  1. UK-EU deal on Gibraltar only 'weeks away'
  2. Belgium declares war on MEPs who took Russian 'cash'
  3. Brussels Dispatches: Foreign interference in the spotlight
  4. Calling time on Amazon's monopolism and exploitation
  5. Resist backlash on deforestation law, green groups tell EU
  6. China's high-quality development brings opportunities to the world
  7. Ukraine tops aid list again, but EU spending slumps
  8. Who did Russia pay? MEPs urge spies to give names

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us