A “cataclysmic day” for three big oil companies in which investors rebelled over climate fears and a court ordered cuts in fossil fuel emissions has raised hope among activists, investors, lawyers and politicians. academics who have said the landmark decisions mark a turning point in efforts to tackle the climate crisis.
A Dutch court on Wednesday ordered Shell to cut carbon emissions from its oil and gas by 45% by 2030. A small group of activist investors simultaneously won two seats on the board of ExxonMobil and Chevron’s management was defeated when investors voted to force the group to cut. its carbon emissions.
Chevron is second on the list of fossil fuel companies with the greatest cumulative carbon emissions, ExxonMobil is third and Shell sixth.
“This is perhaps the most cataclysmic day yet for the fossil fuel industry,” said climate activist and author Bill McKibben. “If you want to keep the temperature low enough for civilization to survive, you have to keep the coal, oil and gas in the ground. It seemed drastic ten years ago. Now it looks like the law.
Sara Shaw of Friends of the Earth International said: “This is a historic victory for climate justice. We hope Shell’s verdict will spark a wave of climate disputes against big polluters. “
Andy Palmen of Greenpeace Netherlands said: “The verdict is a historic victory. We can now hold multinationals accountable for the climate crisis. “
Andrew Logan de Ceres, who coordinates investor climate action, told the Financial Times: “This will be seen in retrospect as the day that all changed for big oil. How the industry chooses to respond to this clear signal will determine which companies thrive during the coming transition and which wither. “
Nick Stansbury of Legal and General Investment Management said: “There is a valid question whether this is a watershed moment in the same way as the first major tobacco lawsuits.”
Michael Burger, of Columbia Law School in the United States, said there was no doubt that Shell’s court defeat was a significant development in global climate litigation, and that “it could spill over into theaters. audience around the world ”.
Tom Cummins of UK law firm Ashurst said: “This is arguably the most important judgment to date on climate change,” and Joana Setzer of the London School of Economics called it “mind-blowing, fundamentally changing what Shell is at its core ”. . Scott Addison of communications firm Infinite Global said, “Today’s decision highlights just how high the business and reputation costs can be for inaction on climate change.”
Two other big oil companies, ConocoPhillips and Phillips 66, had already suffered from investor revolts over climate inaction in recent weeks, but the legal defeat of Shell has set a new precedent, according to Roger Cox, lawyer for Friends of the Earth. The Netherlands, which continued the case. with 17,000 citizens. “It’s a turning point in history,” he said. “This is the first time that a judge has ordered a large polluting company to comply with the Paris climate agreement.”
Oil and gas majors posted record losses and write-offs during the coronavirus pandemic. The International Energy Agency said earlier this month that if governments take the climate crisis seriously, there could be no new investments in oil, gas and coal starting this year, unlike most companies’ plans for further exploration.
Shell said it expected to appeal what it called a disappointing judgment, which could take two years, and Chevron chief executive Mike Wirth said the company could increase financial returns and reduce carbon emissions at the same time.
Exxon chief executive Darren Woods said he heard shareholders’ desire for change and the company was well positioned to respond. Oil companies’ climate plans have been criticized for not including all of their products, for moving too slowly, and for being too dependent on carbon offsets.
A Wall Street Journal editorial, which has often been skeptical of global warming, said: “Usual suspects view the partial defeat of ExxonMobil in a proxy shareholder battle as a Waterloo for fossil fuels. [But] it was not a revolt of retail investors against fossil fuels. It was a progressive political coup. Fossil fuels are not going away and Exxon will not prosper if it acts the way they will. “
James Murray, editor of the BusinessGreen website, said: “The events [on Wednesday] These are still small steps towards these companies which are credibly transforming their activities in accordance with the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Has judgment day finally arrived for big oil? If so, they can’t say they haven’t been notified.