A landmark legal challenge has forced Royal Dutch Shell to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to meet global climate goals.
In the first case of its kind in the world, a Dutch court declared that the company had a responsibility to reduce its carbon emissions.
A 30-minute ruling in the Hague District Court this afternoon ordered Royal Dutch Shell and its subsidiaries to reduce their emissions by 45% by 2030, compared with 2019 levels. This would bring the companies into line with the Paris climate agreement.
The judge said potential sacrifices in corporate growth or investments did not outweigh the risks of harm from climate change. She also found that Shell was partly responsible for the emissions of its suppliers and customers.
The case, called the People Versus Shell, was first brought in 2019 by the Netherlands branch of Friends of the Earth. It was backed by six other groups and more than 17,000 Dutch citizens.
They argued that Shell had breached its legal duty of care and violated human rights.
After the ruling, Donald Pols, director of Friends of the Earth Netherlands said:
“This is a monumental victory for our planet, for our children and is a stop 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.”
Roger Cox, lawyer for Friends of the Earth Netherlands, said:
“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. This ruling may also have major consequences for other big polluters.”
Rachel Kennerley, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland said:
“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.”
Today’s decision could lead to more legal challenges against big oil companies.
Shell’s lawyers are deciding whether to appeal. But the company must act on the ruling immediately, the judge said.
Shell was the ninth biggest polluter in the world in 1988-2015, according to the Carbon Majors database.
The company said it was making serious efforts to cut gas emissions and argued there was no legal basis for the case because governments were responsible for meeting Paris climate targets.
In February, Shell said it had set new targets to reduce its net carbon footprint compared to a 2016 baseline by 20 percent by 2030, 45 percent by 2035 and 100 percent by 2050.
A Shell spokesperson 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.”
The 2015 Paris accord committed nearly 200 nations to cut carbon emissions to limit warming to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.