C: Milieudefensie / Friends of the Earth Netherlands

Sometimes the word historic or landmark is overused. But not in this case.

In a legal judgement that will be equally celebrated by climate activists worldwide and feared in Big Oil boardrooms, for the first time in history, a judge has held a corporation liable for causing dangerous climate change. And that company is Shell.

Yesterday, as a result of legal action brought by Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie) together with a staggering 17,000 co-plaintiffs, a court in The Hague in the Netherlands ruled that Shell must reduce its CO2 emissions by 45% compared to 2019 levels within 10 years.

The Judge in the case, Larisa Alwin, ruled that the oil giant must “at once” reduce its CO2 output, adding that the case would have “far-reaching consequences” for Shell, maybe even curbing “the potential growth of the Shell group”.

She added that even if the obligation might have far-reaching consequences for Shell, “the interest served with the reduction obligation outweighs the Shell group’s commercial interests.”

This historic verdict will have serious and far implications for Shell and other big polluters globally.

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

Other commentators agreed with FOE. CNN reported that the decision “could have far reaching consequences for oil companies … The verdict could pave the way for similar cases to be brought in other countries, forcing oil companies to reduce fossil fuel production.”

Bloomberg Green added “The Shell verdict could have a powerful ripple effect, not least among its European peers including BP Plc and Total SE. Those companies have set similar emissions targets, which have also been criticized by campaigners for not going far enough.”

Experts agreed too. Angus Walker, an environmental lawyer at BDP Pitmans in London, told Bloomberg: “This is big news for carbon emitters everywhere, not just in the oil industry. This may spread from large emitters to small, and from the Netherlands to other countries, at least in terms of challenges, if not successful ones.”

Eric De Brabandere, a Professor of International Dispute Settlement at Leiden University in the Netherlands told CNN: “I can imagine this will inspire a series of other cases against companies, especially those active in the oil extraction industries like Shell.  It is a groundbreaking decision, it’s really a landmark.”

Indeed, there are already 1,800 climate change lawsuits being fought in courtrooms around the world. And now there will be many more.

It is not surprising that Twitter exploded with delight after the judgment.

Oil Change International campaigner, Laurie van der Burg, who before joining OCI worked on the Shell climate case for three years at Milieudefensie says: “This is a massive win for people all around the world. The Court’s ruling is crystal clear. Oil and gas companies can no longer hide behind empty climate promises and green PR. They will need to cut oil and gas production and sales to bring their emissions down in line with 1.5°C.”

Van der Burg added: “Shell is considering to appeal, but it should think twice. It might face an even stronger ruling in the Supreme Court, like the Dutch State did when it appealed the initial ruling in the Urgenda climate case.”