climate change

Shell faces lawsuit for failing to act on climate change


Photo credit: Friends of the Earth International.

By Anders Lorenzen

The oil giant Shell can look forward to facing the courts in its home country, Holland, as Friends of the Earth Netherlands have announced they’re suing the company.

The lawsuit comes as the green NGO is demanding that Shell take responsibility for its part in causing global climate damage, with continuing multi-billion euro investments in extracting fossil fuels. If Shell does not take climate action, Friends of the Earth Netherlands is prepared to take the case to court.

Donald Pols, Director of Friends of the Earth Netherlands explains: “Shell is among the ten biggest climate polluters worldwide. It has known for over 30 years that it is causing dangerous climate change, but continues to extract oil and gas and invests billions in the search for and development of new fossil fuels.”

The case is supported by the umbrella organization, Friends of the Earth International, which has 75 member groups globally, many of them working to stop Shell extracting fossil fuels in their country. The Chair of the organization, Karin Nansen commented “This case matters for people everywhere. Shell is doing enormous damage worldwide – climate change and dirty energy have devastating impacts around the world, but especially in the global South. With this lawsuit, we have a chance to hold Shell to account.”

The rise of climate change lawsuits

This lawsuit comes on the back of several other climate-related lawsuits. Last year an Austrian court handed activists a victory as it denied a third runway at Vienna airport on climate change grounds. Also in 2016 Greenpeace took the Norwegian state to court on climate change grounds. They lost, but are appealing the case.

In January, the city of New York went to court to claim compensation from the five largest oil companies, including Shell, for the consequences of climate change. The cities of San Francisco and Oakland, as well as several other counties in California, are doing the same. A Peruvian farmer is suing the German energy company RWE for its contribution to glaciers melting above his village caused by climate change.

But Friends of the Earth Netherlands say their case is unique because it is the first climate lawsuit demanding that a fossil fuel company acts on climate change, rather than merely seeking compensation.

Ignoring the plight of climate change

Campaigners argue that Shell’s plans reveal that in the coming years it wants to invest only around 5% in sustainable energy. Shell will continue to invest the remaining 95% in extracting, even more, oil and gas. This will only increase the impact of climate change – especially on the world’s poorest people and those most prone to suffer flooding.

They say the company is globally responsible for approximately 2% of the historical emissions of CO2 and methane between 1854 and 2010. While this may be historical, campaigners are demanding that future policy is decided with a view to stopping dangerous climate change.

Friends of the Earth Netherlands claim that Shell should be held accountable for the part the company is playing in contributing to climate change and argues that the multinational can be challenged in court for hazardous negligence under Dutch law.

They argue that the company is acting hypocritically when they claim to support the climate goals set in the Paris Agreement, while annually Shell continues to invest multi-billions of euros in gas and oil.

Karen Nansen of FOTE International added “If we win this case, it has major consequences for other fossil companies, and opens the door for further legal action against other climate polluters. Friends of the Earth International want to see binding rules for corporations like Shell who so often regard themselves as being above the law, including when it comes to climate goals.”


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