Judge Larisa Alwin of The Hague District Court said that by 2030 Shell’s net carbon emissions were to be 45% below 2019 levels, a decision which she added would ” considerable consequences ”for the Anglo-Dutch company.
The decision followed a legal campaign led by Milieudefensie, the Dutch wing of Friends of the Earth, which included thousands of local citizens.
Donald Pols, director of Friends of the Earth Netherlands, called the decision a “monumental victory”.
Shell said it “would fully expect to appeal today’s disappointing court ruling.”
However, the ruling could set a precedent for similar cases against the world’s biggest polluting companies that could now face lawsuits and be forced to overhaul their business models.
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Shell had announced that it would reduce the carbon intensity of the fossil fuels it produces and sells by 6% by 2023, 20% by 2030 and 45% by 2035 from 2016 levels. The targets are part of its ambition to become a net zero emissions company by 2050. Carbon intensity is a measure of carbon per megajoule of energy sold, rather than an absolute measure of carbon emitted.
Justice Alwin said her decision would require “a policy change” from Shell that could “dampen the potential growth of the Shell group.”
“The interest served with the reduction obligation outweighs the commercial interests of the Shell group,” she added.
Climate disputes against fossil fuel companies have escalated in recent years. Until now, it has largely focused on liability lawsuits, asking companies to pay damages for their past behavior.
The court case against Shell comes as more activists have launched so-called human rights-based cases – ones that aim to radically change a company’s strategy and potentially disrupt its business model.
While rival BP has set targets for cutting fossil fuel production, Shell has refused to take similar steps, saying such steps would be arbitrary and ignore the still strong demand for fossil fuels.
Even though the company has announced that it will invest billions of dollars in low-carbon energy, including electric vehicle charging, hydrogen, renewables and biofuels, Shell stressed that it will not do so. that to progress “in phase with society”.
Shell argued that government policy and consumer behavior must first change rather than producers leading the charge.
In response to this point, the judge said in his ruling that Shell “must do more than monitor developments in society and comply with the regulations of the countries where the Shell group operates”.
While she acknowledged that Shell “cannot solve this global problem on its own,” the judge said that did not “exonerate” the company from its individual responsibility to reduce emissions “that it can. control and influence ”.
The judge added that Shell “is free to comply with its reduction obligation as it sees fit”.
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