Shell appeals Dutch court's landmark climate ruling forcing it to slash emissions

Shell is appealing a landmark climate ruling made by Dutch courts.
Shell is appealing a landmark climate ruling made by Dutch courts. Copyright AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File
By Rosie Frost
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The oil and gas giant claims the historic climate ruling ‘obstructs’ climate action but environmental groups say the scientific basis of the case has only got stronger since 2021.

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This week, Shell will try to convince Dutch courts to repeal a historic climate ruling that ordered the fossil fuel giant to slash its greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2021, a landmark climate case saw The Hague order Shell to cut its carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 compared to 2019, aiming to make the company align its business plans with Paris Agreement goals.

The ruling included both Shell’s own emissions and so-called Scope 3 emissions produced by consumers using its products - like those from people driving with Shell petrol in their cars.

The first-of-its-kind victory sparked a wave of other climate cases against other fossil fuel companies. At COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, the team behind the case even published a 70-page DIY manual titled ‘How We Defeated Shell’ encouraging others to follow in their footsteps.

Why is Shell appealing the landmark ruling?

While the oil and gas giant has stressed that it isn’t ignoring the court order - highlighting billions in investments for the development of low-carbon energy and commitments to reduce emissions - it argues that the ruling goes too far.

“This case has no legal basis", Shell's lawyer Daan Lunsingh Scheurleer told the court on the first day of hearings, adding that the order “obstructs” the role the company wants to play in the energy transition.

The company claims implementing the ruling would force it to shrink its business and shift customers to other fuel suppliers. Lunsingh Scheurleer emphasised how the energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had shown the importance of oil and gas in energy security and affordability during the transition.

Shell says it agrees that the world needs urgent climate action but has a different view on how that goal should be achieved.

Earlier this month, the oil and gas company weakened some of its climate targets.

Despite reaffirming its goal to reach net zero by 2050, it scrapped an objective to cut emissions by 2035 citing strong demand for gas and uncertainty during the energy transition

Shell is also aiming for a less ambitious 15 to 20 per cent reduction in the carbon intensity of its energy products by 2030.

Environmental groups are confident in their claims

Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands) and the six other organisations that brought the original case against the fossil fuel giant, however, are confident heading into the appeal.

“The scientific basis on which we’ve founded our claims against Shell has only solidified,” says Roger Cox, lawyer for the group.

The scientific basis on which we’ve founded our claims against Shell has only solidified.
Roger Cox
Milieudefensie lawyer

Extreme weather, crop failures and record-breaking temperatures around the world since the ruling could help to strengthen the case. The legal team plans to draw on new evidence from international bodies too. Findings from the latest IPCC report, for example, highlight that the risks posed by climate change have increased in the years since 2021.

“In court, it’s fact that matters which is why I am confident that we can once again convince the judges that Shell needs to act in line with international climate agreements,” Cox adds.

Milieudefensie also points out that Shell’s annual emissions are several times those of the Netherlands which it says means the multinational company also shares the responsibility of curbing greenhouse gases.

“Shell is constantly trying to run away from its responsibility to stop dangerous climate change, but they can't bolt from the courtroom,” says Donald Pols, director of Milieudefensie.

“Climate scientists warn that we need to act even faster than originally thought. Shell may keep putting up smokescreens, but the facts are crystal clear. Their emissions need to be drastically cut.”

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Both sides will make their arguments this week and a verdict is expected in the second half of this year. Regardless of the outcome, an appeal is expected at the Dutch Supreme Court in the future.

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