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Shell vs. The World: A Tale of Carbon Emissions, Courtrooms, and Questionable Commitments

Posted by John Donovan: 18 Jan 24

 Shell Plc is prepping for its big courtroom comeback. They’re appealing against a Dutch court ruling that was basically a ‘please stop ruining the planet’ request. The court had the audacity to order Shell to slash its global emissions by 45% by 2030 from its 2019 levels. Shell’s reaction? “Hold my oil barrel!”

Picture this: it’s 2021, and Friends of the Earth, along with six other NGOs and a casual 17,000 other plaintiffs, successfully argue that Shell is playing fast and loose with Dutch and European human rights law. The District Court in The Hague, in a move that probably had Shell execs spitting out their morning coffee, mandates this emission cut. Shell’s response: “Let’s take this to the appeals court!”

Fast forward to almost three years later, and Shell’s appeal is all set for a four-day extravaganza at The Hague Court of Appeal. It’s like the Oscars but for corporate environmental responsibility (or the lack thereof).

In the original case, the court, citing every environmental body under the sun, says Shell’s efforts to curb emissions are as effective as a chocolate teapot. The court’s mandate obliges Shell to reduce emissions from its operations, energy suppliers, and customers. It’s like telling a kid to clean their room, their friend’s room, and maybe the neighbor’s too.

This landmark case was a first-of-its-kind against a company, rather than just state actors. Since then, climate litigation has become as trendy as avocado toast.

But wait, there’s more! The same year, Shell, in a move as subtle as a neon billboard, announced plans to move its headquarters from the Netherlands to the UK. “It’s not you, it’s me,” said Shell to Dutch jurisdiction, citing a need to ‘simplify its share structure.’

While Shell insists that appealing the verdict doesn’t mean it’s not committed to reaching net-zero by 2050, it’s like saying, “I’m on a diet” while ordering a double cheeseburger. They argue that the Hague’s obligations are like asking Usain Bolt to run in slow motion.

In a statement dripping with corporate speak, Shell said, “The obligation the court has set is much more stringent than the world’s most progressive energy pathways and scenarios.” It’s like they’re saying, “Come on, even the overachievers aren’t trying this hard.”

And about reducing its customers’ emissions? Shell’s like, “How can we be ordered to reduce carbon emissions we do not control?” It’s the corporate equivalent of a shrug emoji.

Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth, not ones to sit back and watch the show, are keeping the pressure cooker on high. They point out Shell’s whopping profits and accuse the company of having plans to “extract every last drop of oil and gas it can.” 

As the appeal looms, Friends of the Earth has raised a war chest of €650K to fight Shell’s appeal. It’s like David vs. Goliath, but with more lawyers and less slingshots.

So grab your popcorn, folks. Shell’s courtroom drama is set to be a blockbuster, complete with plot twists, corporate backpedalling, and a hefty dose of environmental urgency. Will Shell manage to wiggle out of this one, or will the court uphold its ‘please be kinder to the planet’ request? Stay tuned!

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