Climate activists who have taken fossil fuel giant Royal Dutch Shell to court over its emissions of harmful greenhouse gases have successfully forced the multinational company to reduce its emissions in what has been hailed as a landmark case.
The case was filed in April 2019 by seven activist groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Netherlands, and is the first lawsuit in which environmental groups have turned to the courts in an effort to force companies to lessen their impact on the planet.
They had demanded that Shell (RDS) must cut its carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, a much steeper reduction than the company’s current goal of reducing the carbon intensity of the products it sells by 20 per cent over the next decade.
The court ruled the Anglo-Dutch energy giant has a duty of care to reduce emissions and its current plans are not strong enough.
Shell can appeal against the ruling.
However the court also said Shell is not currently in breach of its obligation to reduce emissions as the environmental groups argued because the parent company is tightening its emissions policy.
It added that the policy “is not concrete, has many caveats and is based on monitoring social developments rather than the company’s own responsibility for achieving a CO2 reduction”.
“Therefore, the court has ordered RDS to reduce the emissions of the Shell group, its suppliers and its customers by net 45 per cent, as compared to 2019 levels, by the end of 2030, through the corporate policy of the Shell group.”
The challenge was first filed in April 2019 on behalf of more than 17,000 Dutch citizens who say Shell is threatening human rights as it continues to invest billions in the production of fossil fuels.
The case was heard in a court in The Hague, where Shell’s headquarters are based.
Responding to the win, Friends of the Earth Europe said in a tweet: “Tears of joy. WE WON!”
“The Dutch court just ruled Shell must cut its CO2 emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 (relative to 2019 levels).
“The climate fight is enormous but we know we can win this thing, beat fossil fuel companies and build a better world.”
Donald Pols, director of Friends of the Earth Netherlands said: “This is a monumental victory for our planet, for our children and a big leap towards a liveable future for everyone.
“The judge has left no room for doubt: Shell is causing dangerous climate change and must stop its destructive behaviour now.”
His colleague, Rachel Kennerley, from Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland added: “Anyone who thinks we should protect our one, precious planet and its people are jubilant today. This ruling confirms what we already knew, that global polluters cannot continue their devastating operations because the costs are too high, and they have been that way for too long.
“Today an historic line has been drawn, no more spin, no more greenwashing, big oil is over. The future is in clean renewables.”
“This is also for the urgent attention of the UK government, because real emissions reductions are required urgently, not offsetting or other smoke and mirrors distractions.”
This is a monumental victory for our planet, for our children and a big leap towards a liveable future for everyone
Donald Pols, director of Friends of the Earth Netherlands
Andy Palmen of Greenpeace Netherlands, said: “This verdict is a historic victory for the climate and everyone facing the consequences of the climate crisis. Shell cannot continue to violate human rights and put profit over people and the planet.
“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.”
The groups, led by Dutch environmental organisation Milieudefensie, said they had been encouraged to bring the case to court in the Netherlands following the so-called "Urgenda" case, in which the Dutch High Court in 2019 ordered the government to step up its fight against climate change, as it said a lack of action was putting Dutch citizens in danger.
A Shell spokesperson told The Independent the company will appeal against the court’s decision.
They said: “Urgent action is needed on climate change which is why we have accelerated our efforts to become a net-zero emissions energy company by 2050, in step with society, with short-term targets to track our progress.
“We are investing billions of dollars in low-carbon energy, including electric vehicle charging, hydrogen, renewables and biofuels. We want to grow demand for these products and scale up our new energy businesses even more quickly. We will continue to focus on these efforts and fully expect to appeal today’s disappointing court decision.”
Additional reporting by PA