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Shell Accelerates Action on Climate Change after Dutch Ruling

21.06.2021 - Dutch multinational energy and chemicals group Shell will accelerate plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions following a Dutch legal ruling late last month.

The case against Shell was brought by NGO Milieudefensie, the Dutch arm of Friends of the Earth, along with Action Aid Netherlands, Both Ends, Fossil Free Netherlands, Greenpeace Netherlands, Young Friends of the Earth Netherlands, the Wadden Sea Association and more than 17,000 Dutch citizens.

They argued that Shell was failing to reduce emissions quickly enough and had a human rights obligation to bring its business into line with international climate change agreements.

Ruling in their favor on May 26, the District Court in The Hague decided that Shell must reduce its net carbon emissions worldwide by 45% versus its 2019 level by 2030, saying that all companies must assess any negative impacts on human rights from their activities.

The court added that the consequences of climate change in the Netherlands and the Wadden pose a threat to the human rights of Dutch residents and the inhabitants of the Wadden region. Shell's lawyers had unsuccessfully argued that the group was already taking serious steps to move away from fossil fuels.

"This is a turning point in history,” said Roger Cox, lawyer for Friends of the Earth Netherlands. “This case is unique because it is the first time a judge has ordered a large polluting company to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement. This ruling may also have major consequences for other big polluters."

Expressing surprise at the ruling, and disappointment that Shell was being singled out, CEO Ben van Beurden said the company was “carefully reviewing the court’s judgement and the challenges it presents, adding that “we expect to appeal.” However, Shell said it expects an appeal to take between 2 and 3 years.

Nevertheless, van Beurden said the company is determined “to rise to the challenge.” He commented: “For Shell, this ruling does not mean a change, but rather an acceleration of our strategy. We have a clear target to become a net-zero emissions business by 2050, in step with society’s progress towards achieving the goal of the Paris Agreement. We have set rigorous, short-term reduction targets along the way to make sure we achieve net zero.”

Van Beurden also pointed to the publication in April of Shell’s detailed Energy Transition Strategy, that he said was unfortunately too late to be considered by the court in The Hague. The court has ruled that its decision applies immediately and should not be suspended pending an appeal.

Author: Elaine Burridge, Freelance Journalist

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