THE HAGUE — A Dutch court on Wednesday ordered Royal Dutch Shell to significantly deepen its planned greenhouse gas emission cuts, in a judgement that could pave the way for legal action against energy firms around the world.
The climate lawsuit, which was filed by seven groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Netherlands, marks a first in which environmentalists have turned to the courts to try to force a major energy firm to change strategy.
At a court room in The Hague, judge Larisa Alwin read out a ruling that ordered Shell to reduce its planet warming carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 from 2019 levels.
Shell currently has a target to reduce the carbon intensity of its products by at least 20 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050 compared with 2016.
The court said that Shell’s climate policy was “not concrete and is full of conditions…that’s not enough.”
“The conclusion of the court is therefore that Shell is in danger of violating its obligation to reduce. And the court will therefore issue an order,” Alwin said.
The legal case was filed in April 2019 on behalf of more than 17,000 Dutch citizens who say Shell is threatening their human rights as it continues to invest billions in the production of fossil fuels.
“This is a huge win, for us and for anyone affected by climate change”, Friends of the Earth Netherlands director Donald Pols, told Reuters.
“It is historic, it is the first time a court has decided that a major polluter has to cut its emissions,” Pols added after the verdict, which Shell can appeal.
A rapid reduction in emissions would effectively force the Anglo-Dutch firm to quickly move away from oil and gas products.
Shell, which plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner, has said court action will not accelerate the world’s transition away from fossil fuels.
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The world’s top oil and gas trader, Shell has said its carbon emissions peaked in 2018, but intensity-based reduction targets allow it, in theory, to expand its oil and gas output.
The plaintiffs claim that Shell’s climate strategy is not in line with the U.N.-backed 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Shell says its 2050 net zero target is aligned with the Paris agreement and that it will move “in step” with society’s progress in the energy transition.
It said in a statement before the judgement that it agrees “that action is needed now on climate change. What will accelerate the energy transition is effective policy, investment in technology and changing customer behavior. None of which will be achieved with this court action.”