Climate scientists agree that global warming is real, it is worsening, and it is being caused in no small part by human activities. While this is no longer in debate, how to address the worsening climate crisis remains a topic of contention among lawmakers and energy companies. Energy companies don’t want to have their profits cut, and many governments don’t want to risk upsetting these companies by regulating them.
However, these complications often meet their end in the courts of the European Union. Case in point: today’s landmark case against the Royal Dutch Shell company. The massive multinational oil company has been ordered to cut its emissions by some 45% by 2030 by a lower court at the Hague. The court found the company’s language about their emissions reduction efforts was far too vague and has given them a concrete target that they must hit or face stiff penalties.
The lawsuit was brought forward by Milieudefensie voor Veranderaars (Friends of the Earth Netherlands in English), an environmentalist group that has been fighting to bring Shell down a notch. The group’s victory is substantial because Shell isn’t being ordered to pay damages, but is instead being ordered to alter their policies.
For decades, cases against energy companies have resulted in the court ordering the company to pay damages. Energy companies are already some of the wealthiest on the planet, so hitting them in the wallet doesn’t do much to dissuade them from continuing to act in ways that hurt the environment. Instead, modern climate activists want to see more courts take aim at these companies’ actual policies.
The environmental group celebrated the win on Wednesday, stating that it was a landmark case. “This is great news for all of us, ourselves and our children,” a spokesperson for the organization insisted to reporters. The environmentalists on the prosecution’s side of the courtroom cried tears of joy at the reading of the verdict.
“Shell will adjust its policy so that it will also emit less CO2 in real-time. It is not up to the judge to say how Shell should do this, but the company will not be able to continue pumping as much oil and gas as they do now. Even if Shell decides to appeal, the ruling will lead to more cases worldwide and politicians and oil and gas companies will feel the pressure to change their course.”
The group hopes this case is the start of a more concerted push to address the worsening climate disaster.