Dutch Activist Groups win Landmark Case Against Shell; Court Orders it to Cut Emissions by 45% by 2030

Filed in April 2019 by Milieudefensie, other Dutch environment groups and 17,000 Dutch citizens, the Dutch High Court has ruled in their favour and ordered Shell to cut its emissions by 45% by 2030; Shell is likely to appeal against the verdict

A Shell offshore oil and gas exploration vessel, Credit: Olaf Kraak for Royal Dutch Shell

A Shell oil and gas exploration vessel, Credit: Olaf Kraak for Royal Dutch Shell

Seven environment activist groups including Milieudefensie, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth (Netherlands) and 17,000 Dutch citizens have won a landmark case against Royal Dutch Shell to cut its carbon emissions by 45% by the end of this decade. This target is far steeper than Shell’s current aim to reduce the carbon footprint of its products by 20% over the next ten years.

The Dutch High Court ruled that while Shell is not currently violating its obligations to minimise environmental damage caused by its operations, its emissions policy “is not concrete, has many caveats and is based on monitoring social developments rather than the company’s own responsibility for achieving a CO2 reduction”. The ruling went on to state that this was why “the court has ordered RDS to reduce the emissions of the Shell group, its suppliers and its customers by net 45 per cent, as compared to 2019 levels, by the end of 2030, through the corporate policy of the Shell group.”

This is the first time that a multinational company has been taken to court over its impact on the climate and corporate responsibility to the environment. The environment activist groups and citizen plaintiffs were led by Milieudefensie, an environmental organisation based in the Netherlands. Milieudefensie stated that they were encouraged by the Dutch High Court’s 2019 order to the government to intensify its fight against climate change, since the lack of action was endangering Dutch citizens. In April of the same year, Milieudefensie and the other climate action groups filed their case against Shell.

Shell is allowed to appeal against the order, which it intends to do. A company spokesperson responded to the court order: “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 will continue to focus on these efforts and fully expect to appeal today’s disappointing court decision.”

In a related event, the Czech Republic recently filed a case against the Polish government in the EU Court of Justice after its decision to extend operations at the Turów coal mine till 2044, over fears that this would adversely impact drinking water supply in the region which lies at the border of both countries.