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Shell must slash carbon emissions in first-of-its-kind climate ruling

"This is a landmark victory for climate justice," says environmental group. The oil giant must clean up its act by 2030, a Dutch court rules.

hague
Donald Pols, director of Friends of the Earth Netherlands, celebrates the landmark verdict.
Milieudefensie

In a historic ruling that could serve as a lodestar for climate activists in years to come, a Dutch court has ordered oil and gas behemoth Royal Dutch Shell to make deeper cuts to its carbon dioxide emissions this decade.

The global energy company had previously committed to cut its contribution of the climate-altering gas by 20 percent in the same time frame. But Judge Larisa Alwin ruled Wednesday from The Hague that Shell must instead reduce its carbon emissions by 45 percent from 2019 levels over the remainder of this decade. The more ambitious target ordered by the court is meant to bring Shell in line with the reduction goals outlined in the Paris agreement of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The ruling is thought to be the first such landmark victory for activists in which a court has sided with environmental groups asking the legal system to force a major corporation to adopt more aggressive de-carbonization targets.

"This verdict is a clear signal to the fossil fuel industry. Coal, oil and gas need to stay in the ground," Andy Palmen, interim director of Greenpeace Netherlands, said in a statement. "We can hold multinational corporations worldwide accountable for the climate crisis."

The case was brought by a handful of groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie), along with 17,379 individual co-plaintiffs.

In its own statement, Milieudefensie says a main point from the verdict is that "there is a threat of human rights violations to the 'right to life' and 'undisturbed family life.'"

"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," said Sara Shaw from Friends of the Earth International. "This result is a win for communities in the global South who face devastating climate impacts now."

Similar cases are in process in Europe. A case brought in Germany against another energy giant, RWE, has been moving forward for years before being stalled by the coronavirus pandemic. It seeks to hold RWE accountable for its contributions to climate change on behalf of a Peruvian mountain guide living under the threat of flooding from melting glaciers in the Andes.

Shell called the verdict "disappointing" and cited its "efforts to become a net-zero emissions energy company by 2050."

The company said it'll continue to invest in renewables and biofuels but also plans to appeal the ruling.