Landmark Shell ruling is a historic win for the good guys

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The Dutch courts have ruled the oil giant must make 45% emissions cuts by 2030 from 2019 levels: a move that will affect energy companies across the world.

Shell, accused by critics of greenwashing, was told it’s previous climate targets were “not enough”. While it has invested millions into its natural ecosystems fund, this is dwarfed by the amount of CO2 it pumps into the atmosphere; some 1.65 billion tonnes in 2019, the year of its peak emissions. 

The fund—panned by some as a PR exercise to gain public trust, rather than a genuine change of heart—is dwarfed by its emissions. One look at Shell’s annual financial report can confirm this, as it continues to invest billions in fossil fuels and turn over hundreds of billions in profit. Shell is one of the 20 firms that are said to produce a third of the world’s carbon emissions including Chevron, Exxonmobil, and BP. In this context, the oil giant’s actions for the environment seem paltry compensation.

Photo by Justus Menke

A historic court ruling 

The lawsuit itself was filed in 2019 by seven groups including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Netherlands, and Fossil Free Netherlands, and included 17,000 local citizens as co-plaintiffs. This is probably the most significant event to happen in the fight against climate change, as it is the first time we see such a powerful entity (who historically get off scot free for ecocide) held accountable.

The ruling will make sure Shell's targets are in-line with the Paris Climate Agreement, giving the framework more institutional clout. Shell was accused of Violating European human rights standards —the right to life and family life— as well as the Dutch civil code.

This decision will throw a spanner in the world for the oil giant’s recent PR exercise to frame climate change as the responsibility of the individual rather than itself, a move described as corporate gaslighting. There’s good evidence that the industry has known about the catastrophic effects of its actions for over a decade, which we have felt keenly in the past year, but planned to profit off the destruction anyway.

Shell, “disappointed” by the decision, plans to appeal. However, this historic court case makes the future look a little brighter for the next generation; who are paying the price of the industry’s cynical inertia. The world will be watching with interest as the reverberations of this case start to hit the industry as a whole. 

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