In a landmark court case in the Netherlands, the Royal Dutch Shell company was ordered to cut emissions by 45% compared to its 2019 emission levels. This is the first time a legally binding emissions decrease is required by law.
The case began in 2019 when the environmentalist group, Friends of the Earth (FoE) brought the case to court. This could open the door for the rest of the oil industry, and others, to be legally bound to lower emissions.
Of course, the victory might be short lived as Shell is planning to appeal the case.
Why Was the Court Case in the Netherlands?
It might seem strange to United States citizens that Shell faced this court case in the Netherlands. It is perceived as a US company and even has a headquarters in Houston, Texas. However, there is a catch.
In reality, the US Shell Oil Company is a subsidiary of the Royal Dutch Shell company. The main headquarters of Royal Dutch Shell is located in the Netherlands, thus the rules that apply to the holding company will apply to all subsidiaries.
Regardless of their location.
That said, the actual ruling would only impact courts in the Netherlands. Yet, for an international business, it will force widespread change, assuming that case isn’t overturned in an appeal.
How Likely is the Appeal?
It is guaranteed.
The companies spokesman has already stated it will appeal the case to a higher court. How long will this process take? Probably one to two years. If the case is then held up, the company can then appeal it to the country’s supreme court.
Thus, it will be quite some time before the legal battle is actually over.
Sadly, the likely hood of the ruling being reversed is quite high considering the unprecedented nature of the case. It’s also more likely that the company will use adequate resources to ensure its legal team is prepared.
Or at the very least, that the appeal takes as long as possible.
The Impact of the Shell Decision
Without a doubt, this could set a new standard in Netherland courts moving forward.
The company argued it was in full compliance with emissions standards within its own country and provided the evidence to back alongside plans to reduce emissions, including net-zero emissions by 2050, yet that wasn’t what the case was arguing.
Instead, the framework of the Paris Agreement was used as the reference point. To put it another way, an agreement intended for governments to follow was instead used on an international company.
Thus, not only was the ruling the first of its kind, but the legal basis was as well.
If the case holds up at higher levels, it could legally force the company to drop emissions by 45%. Although the verdict did not provide any plans on how the company was to achieve this or how it would monitor it.
This would open a floodgate of court cases against any company based in the Netherlands. On an international stage, it’s not clear how this would really play out.
Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.