Shell threatened with climate lawsuit in the Netherlands

Friends of the Earth has warned it will take the oil giant to court unless it overhauls its business plan in line with international climate goals

Shell fuel truck (Pic: Wikimedia Commons/Lommer)

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Campaigners are threatening to take oil company Shell to court in the Netherlands unless it takes major climate action.

Friends of the Earth Netherlands sent a formal letter to the company today, outlining the steps the campaigners believe Shell must take to bring its business plan in line with the global climate goals as set out in the Paris Agreement.

The legal action was started after Shell announced it planned to continue to put around 95% of its investments into extracting more oil and gas. It expects to invest only around 5% in sustainable energy.

Shell is responsible for around 2% of global carbon dioxide and methane emissions between 1894 and 2010, research has previously shown. Shell’s business is jointly registered in the Netherlands and the UK, which gives the campaigners strong grounds to bring the case in Europe.

The campaigners said in a statement that the court case threat is a way to force Shell to “take responsibility for its part in causing global climate damage”.

The court case would be the latest in a series of legal actions to put major oil companies in the dock over their responsibility for climate change. New York is seeking compensation for the effects of climate change from the world’s five largest oil companies: BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell. A similar suit is also underway in California.

Shell has previously been taken to court in the Netherlands over it liability for oil spills in Nigeria.

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Craig Bennett, chief executive of the UK branch of Friends of the Earth, said in a statement: “Science tells us that time isn’t a luxury we have where climate change is concerned. When world leaders met in Paris in 2015 they agreed to end the fossil fuel era, but in the meantime, Shell continues to invest in new oil and gas sources.

Shell must now move on from its history of earth damaging fossil fuel extraction and play a major part in the transition to a sustainable future, to keep temperature rises to near 1.5C. Currently, Shell and companies like it, are acting like big tobacco in decades past by failing to take responsibility for the harm that they cause.”

Sophie Marjanac, a lawyer with NGO Client Earth, said the case has “huge implications”.

“It has been filed in the Netherlands, where judges have already ruled in favour of an NGO’s climate case, resulting in the Dutch government being forced to cut its emissions. The arguments are strong and this could open the door to yet more climate challenges to fossil fuel majors, as we’ve seen with lawsuits around the world and campaigns like #ExxonKnew.”

Jeanne Martin, senior campaigns officer with ShareAction, which seeks to influence companies climate policy at shareholder level, said shareholders should now take the threat of legal action seriously and use their influence to “drive meaningful change in the oil industry”.

The company says it supports the Paris Agreement and its goal to limit global warming to well below two degrees but its investment portfolio suggests otherwise. Instead of facing the biggest issue of our times, Shell is splashing cash at projects that are incompatible with their stated support of the Paris Agreement, and are likely to go bust in light of rising disruptive regulatory and technological forces.”

Shell had not responded to a request for comment at time of publication.

This article was originally published on DeSmog UK.

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