File picture Ana Fernandez / SOPA Images/Sipa USA/Reuters
File picture Ana Fernandez / SOPA Images/Sipa USA/Reuters

Oil-conglomerate Shell ordered to cut emissions in climate lawsuit

By Dominic Naidoo Time of article published Nov 19, 2021

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In May this year, members of MilieuDefensie, an outspoken Dutch environmental group, celebrated a winning verdict in a case against Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

The verdict ordered Shell to work more diligently and shorten the timelines with regards to cutting its emissions. This dealt a massive blow to the oil conglomerate and would have far-reaching consequences for the rest of the global fossil fuel industry.

In a world-first, the Government of the Netherlands has lost a landmark legal case over its greenhouse gas emissions plans in 2015.

Urgenda, a Dutch environmental group brought a class-action lawsuit over climate change.

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The group sued on behalf of close to 900 Dutch citizens which included children. The suit claimed that the government’s action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is insufficient, and is, therefore “knowingly exposing its own citizens to dangerous situations”.

Urgenda reported on their website that “on 24 June 2015, Urgenda, together with 900 co-claimants, won the Climate Case against the Dutch State. The judge ordered the State to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% in 2020 compared to 1990. The State appealed against this judgment. On 9 October, the Hague Court upheld the judge's verdict. And on December 20, 2019, the State's appeal in cassation was dismissed.”

Urgenda has requested that the court “declare that global warming of more than 2°C will lead to a violation of fundamental human rights worldwide”. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at the time implored governments to cut emissions to between 25% and 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 to have a 50% chance of avoiding an increase of 2°C.

Three judges agreed with the class action suit, ruling that government plans to cut emissions by 14-17 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2020 were illegal. The ruling said: “The state should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts.”

“We have litigated against countries and been successful,” Roger Cox, lawyer for Milieudefensie, an environmental campaign group and the Dutch branch of Friends of the Earth.

“Now we have shown that one can successfully litigate against fossil fuel corporations and I think that the next step is to start also litigating against financial institutions who make these emissions and fossil fuel projects possible.”

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