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Dutch court to rule in Shell climate case

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Shell acknowledges it has a role to play in dealing with climate change and says it is doing so, but that addressing the issue is better achieved through cooperation rather than litigation [PHOTO: Peter Boer/Bloomberg

A Dutch court will give its verdict on Wednesday on a landmark bid by environmental groups to force oil giant Shell to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets in the Paris climate accords.

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Dubbed “the People versus Shell”, the case was launched in 2019 by the Netherlands branch of Friends of the Earth, and is backed by six other groups and more than 17,000 Dutch citizens.

Anglo-Dutch multinational Shell says it is making serious efforts to cut gas emissions, but argues that there is no legal basis for the case and that governments are responsible for meeting Paris targets.

“The climate case against Shell is unique because it is the first time in history that judges have been asked to order a company to emit less CO2 by changing its policy,” Friends of the Earth Netherlands said in a statement.

Judges at the district court in The Hague will start reading the verdict at 1300 GMT.

The case is one of a series around the world in which citizens and campaigners frustrated with inaction on climate change have hauled governments and big polluters before the courts.

The 2015 Paris accords committed all nations to cut carbon emissions to limit warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels and encouraged them to go down to 1.5 degrees.

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The campaigners asked the court during hearings in December to order Anglo-Dutch multinational Shell to reduce emissions by 45 percent by 2030 in order to help achieve that goal.

Shell said in February it had set new targets to reduce its net carbon footprint compared to a 2016 baseline by 20 percent by 2030, 45 percent by 2035 and 100 percent by 2050.

Its previous targets were 30 percent by 2035 and 65 percent by 2050.

– ‘Historic opportunity’ -But ActionAid Netherlands executive director Marit Maij said that “big polluters like Shell have an outsized responsibility to help tackle climate change.”

“We hope the judge will take this historic opportunity to hold Shell accountable for its actions and ensure it cuts its emissions in line with the Paris Agreement,” Maij said.

The group said Shell’s “strategy is to keep polluting while offsetting their emissions with vast tree plantations.”

“This will require land the equivalent of three times the size of the Netherlands, which risks driving conflicts over food and land in the Global South”, she added.

Dozens of climate marchers handed in the lawsuit to Shell’s headquarters in the Netherlands in The Hague in April 2019 in what organisers said was the first case of its kind.

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Shell’s lawyers told the court in December that the company was already taking “serious steps” to support the global transition away from the fossil fuels, and that the ultimate decision rested with governments.

It said there was no legal basis for the case, and no legal rule that made Shell’s emissions unlawful.

Campaigners are hoping to repeat the success of a case brought by the green group Urgenda in which the Dutch Supreme Court in 2019 ordered the state to slash emissions by at least 25 percent of 1990 levels by the end of 2020.

The Netherlands, particularly vulnerable to climate change as a third of the country is below sea level, has pledged to reduce CO2 emissions by 49 percent by 2030.

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