The Hauge, Netherlands: Oil and energy giant Shell was ordered by a Dutch court on Wednesday to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions targets, marking a significant victory for climate activists.
The case, dubbed “the People versus Shell,” was started by the Netherlands branch of Friends of the Earth in 2019 and is backed by six other organizations and around 17,000 Dutch residents.
“The court orders Royal Dutch Shell… to reduce its CO2 output and those of its suppliers and buyers by the end of 2030 by a net of 45 percent based on 2019 levels,” the court said.
“Royal Dutch Shell has to implement this decision at once.”
Climate activists had sought the court to impose the target, claiming that Shell, an Anglo-Dutch multinational, should satisfy the 2015 Paris climate accords’ emissions goal.
Shell announced in February that it had established new aims to cut its net carbon footprint by 20% by 2030, 45 percent by 2035, and 100% by 2050, compared to a 2016 baseline.
It had previously set goals of 30% by 2035 and 65% by 2050.
Shell has maintained that it is making significant efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but that there is no legal foundation for the claim and that governments are accountable for meeting the Paris goals.
Friends of the Earth Netherlands, one of the groups leading the case, said in a statement ahead of the verdict that it was “unique because it is the first time in history that judges have been asked to order a company to emit less CO2.”
The case is one of many throughout the world in which individuals and campaigners fed up with governments’ and large polluters’ inactivity on climate change have taken them to court.
The 2015 Paris Agreement committed all countries to reduce carbon emissions to keep global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, with a goal of 1.5 degrees.
“Big polluters like Shell have an outsized obligation to help combat climate change,” said Marit Maij, executive director of ActionAid Netherlands.
The case, according to Maij, is a “historic opportunity to hold Shell accountable for its conduct and guarantee it reduces emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement.”
Shell’s “goal is to maintain polluting while offsetting their emissions with enormous tree plantations,” according to the group.
“This will require land the equivalent of three times the size of the Netherlands, which risks driving conflicts over food and land in the Global South”, she added.
In April 2019, dozens of climate marchers delivered the lawsuit to Shell’s headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands, in what organizers claimed was the first of its type.
Shell’s attorneys told the court in December that the firm was already taking “significant initiatives” to aid the global transition away from fossil fuels, and that governments would make the final decision.
Campaigners have built on the success of a case launched by the green group Urgenda, in which the Dutch Supreme Court ordered the government to reduce emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020, compared to 1990 levels.
The Netherlands, which is particularly vulnerable to climate change due to the fact that a third of the country is below sea level, has committed to cutting CO2 emissions by 49% by 2030.