Royal Dutch Shell must reduce CO2 emissions

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Den Haag, 26 mei 2021

The Hague District Court has ordered Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) to reduce the CO2 emissions of the Shell group by net 45% in 2030, compared to 2019 levels, through the Shell group's corporate policy.

​Claimants' right of action

This order has been given in proceedings initiated by seven foundations and associations as well as over 17,000 individual claimants. The claimants believe that as the policy-setting head of the Shell group, RDS takes insufficient action, acts unlawfully, and should do more to reduce CO2 emissions. In their claims they demanded that by 2030 CO2 emissions will have been reduced by 45%, or alternatively, 35% or 25%, compared to 2019 levels. The claims concern the CO2 emissions of the Shell group itself as well as those of its suppliers and customers.

Obligation for Shell to ensure CO2 reduction

The court has come to the conclusion that RDS is obliged to ensure through the Shell group's corporate policy that the CO2 emissions of the Shell group, its suppliers and its customers are reduced. This follows from the unwritten standard of care applicable to RDS, which the court has interpreted based on the facts, widespread consensus and internationally accepted standards.

The Shell group is one of the world's largest producers and suppliers of fossil fuels. The CO2 emissions of the Shell group, its suppliers and customers exceed those of many countries. This contributes to global warming, which causes dangerous climate change and creates serious human rights risks, such as the right to life and the right to respect for private and family life. It is generally accepted that companies must respect human rights. This is an individual responsibility of companies, which is separate from states' actions. This responsibility also extends to suppliers and customers. RDS has an obligation of result with respect to the Shell group's CO2 emissions. As regards its suppliers and customers, RDS has a significant best-efforts obligation, which means that RDS must use its influence through the corporate policy for the Shell group, for instance by setting requirements on suppliers in its purchasing policy. RDS has complete freedom in how it meets its reduction obligation and in shaping the Shell group's corporate policy. The required sacrifices outweigh the interest served by fighting dangerous climate change.

​Imminent breach of the reduction obligation

The court finds that RDS is not presently in breach of its reduction obligation, as the claimants argue. RDS has enhanced the Shell group's policy and is working it out in more detail. However, seeing as the policy is not concrete, has many caveats and is based on monitoring social developments rather than the company's own responsibility for achieving a CO2 reduction, the court finds that there is an imminent breach of the reduction obligation. Therefore, the court has ordered RDS to reduce the emissions of the Shell group, its suppliers and its customers by net 45%, as compared to 2019 levels, by the end of 2030, through the corporate policy of the Shell group.


Watch the video of the verdict here (in Dutch)