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Landmark Climate Case: Paris Agreement No Empty Shell

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In a historical first, a dutch court condemned a corporation, rather than a government, for not doing enough on climate change.

Landmark Climate Case: Paris Agreement No Empty Shell

On 26 May, the Hague District court ordered the Royal Dutch Shell PLC to cut its net carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030. By setting a goal that was lower than what is needed to reach the 1.5°C target set out by the Paris climate Agreement, the court found that Shell breached its duty of care under the Dutch Civil Code. 

This cornerstone climate case was first introduced in the Netherlands against Shell in 2019 by several NGOs as well as 17,379 Dutch citizens. The plaintiffs alleged the oil giant was not complying with its human rights obligations, contributing excessively to climate change and failing to slash its emissions. 

This decision innovates in many aspects. It exposes companies to the risk of being held  accountable for all emissions across their value chain. The judges also relied on new ground to base their decision. 

Most notably, they invoked the 2015 Paris Agreement as well as on climate science, referring to independent agencies’ reports (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, International Energy Association and UN Environment Programme). 

The ruling most notably opens the way for the Paris Agreement to become enforceable against private parties, in addition to States. One of the plaintiffs, Friends of the Earth, affirmed that this “is the first time a company has been legally obliged to align its policies with the Paris climate accords”.

The unprecedented grounds behind this decision open windows for new climate cases around the globe. It will likely further compel energy giants to drastically rethink their strategy. 

A recent report from the International Energy Agency highlights that no new oil and gas fields must be approved for development starting 2021 for the global economy to reach the 1.5°C target set by the Paris Agreement.