Multinational oil company Royal Dutch Shell has been ordered in court to slash its carbon emissions in order to protect the environment from climate change.
The landmark ruling, thought to be the first of its kind, demands the firm cuts its emissions by a net 45% by 2030 – compared with 2019 levels – to bring it in line with the Paris Agreement.
The outcome has far-reaching implications for the global fossil fuel industry and could pave the way for further climate litigation.
Donald Pols, director of Friends of the Earth Netherlands (FOE NL) which coordinated the case, called it a “monumental victory”.
“The judge has left no room for doubt: Shell is causing dangerous climate change and must stop its destructive behaviour now,” he said in a statement.
Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) said it “fully expect[ed] to appeal today’s disappointing court decision”.
But even if the company did appeal, it must comply with the judgement immediately, the court said.
In a statement the oil giant said “urgent action [was] needed on climate change” and that it wanted to grow demand for its low-carbon products.
The verdict was handed down at the District Court of the Hague against Royal Dutch Shell, in a case filed by environmentalist and human rights groups including FOE NL.
Environmental lawyer Joana Setzer called it “groundbreaking” and the first time that a company had lost a case that looked into future in this way.
The campaigners’ lawyers brought the action on the grounds that RDS had breached its legal duty of care and violated human rights.
Shell was the ninth biggest polluter in the world in 1988-2015, according to the Carbon Majors database.
The firm currently has a target to reduce the “carbon intensity” of its products by 100% before 2050.
But judge Larisa Alwin said the target was “not concrete, has many caveats and is based on monitoring social developments rather than the company’s own responsibility for achieving a CO2 reduction”.
Carbon intensity reflects the total amount of greenhouse gas emitted per unit of energy sold, allowing the oil major to rely on offsetting to reach the target rather than make absolute emissions cuts.
This would mean it could even increase fossil fuel production if it could offset alongside.
A group of seven environmental and human rights organisations and 1,700 Dutch citizens filed the case – the court ruled on the claims from only six of the groups.
The Hague court gave the company “complete freedom” to decide how it met its reduction obligation.
On Wednesday, Exxon shareholders voted to fire two board members after an activist investor launched a coup against the company. The investor, Engine No. 1, has now replaced the board members with two new candidates who take the threat of climate change more seriously, it said.
Meanwhile, Chevron shareholders voted to cut carbon emissions from the fuels they produce, rebelling against the company’s board to back Dutch campaign group Follow This, who proposed the changes.
Every day at 6.30pm Sky News broadcasts the first daily prime time news show dedicated to climate change.
Hosted by Anna Jones, The Daily Climate Show is following Sky News correspondents as they investigate how global warming is changing our landscape and how we all live our lives.
The show will also highlight solutions to the crisis and show how small changes can make a big difference.