Shell appeals landmark ruling ordering it to cut emissions by 45%

Oil giant says 2021 ruling ‘went too far’ and stresses the importance of fossil fuels

Oil and gas giant Shell has begun a four-day appeal against a landmark court ruling in 2021 that ordered it to cut its Co2 emissions by 45 per cent by the end of 2030 and make “maximum efforts” to limit the emissions caused by customers using its products.

The ruling shocked businesses across the EU concerned that they too could be accused of “endangering the public” if they failed to acknowledge what the Dutch court described as their “duty of care” for the detrimental impact of their clients’ emissions.

Campaigners from Milieudefensie, the Dutch environmental organisation that took the original legal action, staged a low-key protest outside the court in The Hague as the appeal began on Tuesday morning.

“Shell try to evade their responsibility for their part in the destruction being caused by climate change, but they cannot ultimately evade decisions made in the courtroom,” said Donald Pols, Milieudefensie’s director.


“While this company continues to put up smokescreens, reputable climate scientists are warning every day that we need to take action more quickly than anyone initially realised. Emissions need to be cut drastically.”

Shell will argue that it is the place of government and not of the courts to decide on how greenhouse gas emissions are tackled at national level.

“We simply do not believe that a court ruling against any one company is the right solution for driving the transition to cleaner anergy,” said Frans Everts, chief executive of Shell Netherlands.

Inside the court Shell’s lawyer, Daan Lunsingh Scheurleer, said: “This case has no legal basis. Indeed, it obstructs the role Shell can and wants to play in the energy transition – during which both oil and gas will have a crucial role in security of supply and affordability.”

The energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had shown the importance of fossil fuels as governments scrambled to increase imports of liquified natural gas and compensate households for surging prices, he said. “However, a general order to reduce the total emissions of its products by 45 per cent from 2019 levels went too far – and its wider implementation could cripple the Dutch economy.”

Roger Cox, lawyer for Milieudefensie, disagreed, and said that the scientific basis on which it had based its original claims had only “solidified”.

He submitted 650 new pieces of evidence, including climate science updates and new expert statements.

The 2021 ruling of the district court of The Hague was based on a Dutch legal principle from the 1965 “cellar hatch” case in which the supreme court ruled that the employer of the person who left the caller hatch in question open had a duty of care to anyone consequently injured.

The appeal court’s ruling is expected in the second half of the year.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court