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Friends of Earth Netherlands has presented Shell with a court summons to stop its destruction of the climate

Interview with lawyer leading the case to stop Shell: “We do feel that we can win”.

Shell is one of the biggest climate polluters [1] in the world. This transnational company has known about the severity of climate change [2] and the impacts of oil drilling for years, but has not only misled the public on the issue, it continues drilling for oil. On April 5, Friends of the Earth Netherlands/Milieudefensie is issuing a writ of summons to Shell.

In Nigeria Shell continues to leave a trail of oil spills, gas flaring, water contamination, human rights abuses and destruction. To stop Shell from wrecking the climate, Friends of the Earth Netherlands is taking Shell to court.

Roger Cox, the lawyer representing Milieudefensie and co-plaintiffs in the climate case against Shell, explained the importance of this issue to Real World Radio:

“What we are doing on the 5 April is issuing a writ of summons to Shell. This is a particular unique case because what we are seeking here is a prevention of future climate harm, instead of looking for financial compensation for loses that have already occurred”.

 

THE PEOPLE VS. SHELL

In April 2018, Friends of the Earth Netherlands sent a notice of liability to Royal Dutch Shell PLC the head company of the Shell group [3]. Milieudefensie stated that Shell should reduce it’s oil and gas activities in the next couple of decades in order to help prevent dangerous climate change and thus start acting in line with the goal of the Paris agreement to avoid dangerous climate change.

Cox recalled that on May 28 of last year, “the response of Shell [4] has been that Shell does not accept liability for it’s actions. Shell has more or less stated that it feels that it is doing enough at this particular time in relation to climate change and it cannot do more unless there is global legislation that will force Shell into further climate action. Since this legislation is, thus far, lacking they feel they have the freedom to continue their business as they are doing right now. Meaning amongst other things to still focus the next couple of decades on oil and gas exploration”.

Should Shell be worried on this summon?

-We feel that we, obviously, have a good chance of also getting an order from the court that will force Shell into more climate action as well.

Do you think you can win?

-Yes for sure, we do feel that we can win. When we started the case against the Dutch government [5], most lawyers also stated that that was not a possibility and we were very confident that we could win that particular case and we have the same feeling with this case. We think we have a strong and solid legal basis to claim what we are claiming from Shell and we also think that the spirit of the time is changing a little bit – more and more people understand and also lawyers, how great the danger of climate change is becoming and the same goes for judges. So we also feel that the time is now to make these changes and use the law as an instrument to accelerate the energy transition and to achieve the Paris goal.

One of Shell’s responses might be that this is the responsibility of consumers and governments not companies.

-Every citizen, governmental organization or company has a duty of care to fulfil in our Dutch legal system. This means in effect that nobody in this country is allowed to create danger for others if this particular danger can be avoided. And Shell can obviously transform to another energy company than a fossil fuel company, so it’s not obliged to continue to be a fossil fuel company for decades to come or for eternity for that matter. It can change. So it has the option to stop contributing to dangerous climate change.

A company like Shell has historically speaking contributed about 2% of all global CO2 emissions. Shell’s activities do have legal relevance because, at least in the Dutch legal system, once your contribution to a problem is not negligible -and in the case against the Dutch government we have learnt that a 0.5% contribution to worldwide emissions is not negligible according to Dutch law-, and the emissions that are contributed to Shell’s activities are not 0.5% but 2% of global emissions so it’s four times as much.

What will happen if you win this case against Shell?

-We are seeking preventative action from Shell. So a court order would mean that Shell, as one of the largest multinational corporations in the world, would be legally obligated to change its business operations.

Climate litigation is a recent phenomenon and this is a landmark case in this respect – it is the first case we know of that seeks preventive action from a company over climate change. Is climate litigation a tool for real change?

-We feel that these kinds of legal cases are instrumental to accelerate the energy transition within the Netherlands at least and it will obviously also have an effect on other companies and in other countries. We are seeking the same sort of response if we are successful in our case against Royal Dutch Shell, we also expect that that would have an effect on other fossil fuel companies, raising the pressure on them to change.

Another point we are making in this legal case is that the consequences of global warming that exceeds 1.5 degrees will be so severe that it will constitute human rights infringements on a global scale and this is one of the reasons why we expect that courts would like to look into this matter and hopefully come to the conclusion that it is not allowed for companies like Shell to continue business as usual, therefore creating this great danger of human rights infringement later in the century.

 

The People vs Shell [6] from Friends of the Earth [7] on Vimeo [8].