Dutch climate activists take Shell to court over emissions

Full Screen
1 / 11

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Demonstrators hold a banner reading "standing by and watching is no longer an option" outside the court building prior to the start of the court case of Milieudefensie, the Dutch arm of the Friends of the Earth environmental organization, against Shell in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. A landmark legal battle opened as climate change activists in the Netherlands go to court seeking an order for energy giant Shell to rein in its carbon emissions. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

THE HAGUE – A group of environmental organizations backed by thousands of Dutch citizens launched a civil case Tuesday against the energy giant Shell, asking a court to order the multinational to commit to reining in its carbon emissions 45% by the year 2030.

Lawyer Roger Cox told a panel of three judges at The Hague District Court that Royal Dutch Shell's corporate policy is “at odds” with global climate goals.

"The claimants therefore conclude that Royal Dutch Shell’s corporate policy is on collision course with global climate targets,” Cox said as he opened four days of hearings spread over the coming weeks.

Shell lawyer Dennis Horeman told the judges that the company already is working on energy transition away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable sources and cautioned that a victory for the environmental groups could open the floodgates to “countless” similar cases.

The legal battle led by Milieudefensie, the Dutch arm of Friends of the Earth, is the latest in a string of cases around the world in which activists are using the courts to fight for action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from governments and companies.

“Everybody needs to pitch in if we are to tackle the climate crisis, especially big polluters like Shell. But Shell and its shareholders are not taking their responsibility, that’s why we are taking legal action,” said Nils Mollema of ActionAid Netherlands, another group involved in the case.

Cox told the court that Shell is responsible — through its business activities and sales of fossil fuels — for around 1.2% of the globe's industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

Horeman insisted that Shell is playing an active role in the energy transition, pointing to projects it is involved with in the Netherlands to build a huge wind turbine park and to create “green hydrogen” using renewable sources, as well as targets Shell has set to reduce emissions.