Netherlands: Big polluter Shell loses climate case

May 27, 2021
Kayak protest against Shell.

For the first time in history, a judge has held a corporation liable for causing dangerous climate change.

As a result of legal action brought by Friends of the Earth (FoE) Netherlands, together with 17,000 Dutch citizens and six other organisations, the District Court of the Hague ruled on May 26 that Shell must reduce its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 45% within 10 years.

Shell is a British-Dutch company, with headquarters in the Netherlands.

The co-plaintiffs were Action Aid Netherlands, Both ENDS, Fossil Free Netherlands, Greenpeace Netherlands, Young Friends of the Earth Netherlands and the Wadden Sea Association (Waddenvereniging).

FoE said this historic verdict has enormous consequences for Shell and other big polluters globally. FOE Netherlands director Donald Pols 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 FoE 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."

The ruling from the court in The Hague will have major ramifications internationally. FoE International spokesperson Sara Shaw said: "This is a landmark victory for climate justice. Our hope is that this verdict will trigger a wave of climate litigation against big polluters, to force them to stop extracting and burning fossil fuels. This result is a win for communities in the global South who face devastating climate impacts now.”

The verdict means that Shell must reduce its emissions and is also responsible for emissions from its customers and suppliers (known as scope 3 emissions).

The Stockholm Environment Institute said the inclusion of scope 3 emissions in the verdict — associated with burning oil and gas — is, in effect, “a ruling that Shell must reduce its fossil fuel production”.

SEI Senior Scientist Peter Erickson wrote a letter to the court in December, concluding that a Shell-commissioned report on oil and gas production was misleading and concluding that restricting Shell’s production would help reduce CO2 emissions.

“Today’s verdict is in line with the research: if oil majors like Shell reduce their fossil fuel production, it will help reduce global CO2 emissions, as necessary to meet climate goals,” Erickson said. “Limiting fossil fuel production is a necessary step, among many, to keep global warming to 1.5°C, as agreed in the Paris Agreement.”

The court also found that there is a threat of human rights violations to the “right to life’ and “undisturbed family life” from Shell’s activities, and ordered Shell to comply with the judgment immediately, because the company’s current climate policy is not concrete enough.

According to FoE, Shell is one of the biggest climate polluters in the world. The company has known about the severity of climate change and the impacts of oil drilling for years, but has misled the public on the issue, while continuing to drill for oil.

In Nigeria Shell continues to leave a trail of oil spills, gas flaring, water contamination, human rights abuses and destruction.

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