Dutch Climate Change Case Sets Precedent for Litigation Against Energy Firms Around the World

24th Jun 2021

On May 26, six NGOs won a significant climate change case against Shell in the Netherlands, setting a precedent for legal actions against energy firms around the world.


The claim was brought on behalf of the entire population of the Netherlands, around 17 million people, and also future generations of Dutch residents. The NGOs alleged that Shell was threatening their human rights as it continues to invest in fossil fuels.


The Court ruled that Shell has an unwritten duty of care under Dutch civil law and that the company must cut its emissions by net 45% by 2030. The emissions reduction affects not only Shell itself, but also its third-party suppliers of goods and services, as well as its end users.


Roger Cox, a lawyer for the Dutch arm of Friends of the Earth, which was one of the organizations behind the case, said “[t]his ruling will change the world. Worldwide, people are in the starting blocks to take legal action against oil companies following our example,” according to the Associated Press. Companies operating in the Netherlands, such as those in the energy, chemical, and mining sectors, will be under increased scrutiny.


This case is not the first legal challenge by climate activists looking to reduce carbon emissions, but it is the first targeting a multinational company.

The AP reports that “[o]ne of the first successful climate cases also was in the Netherlands, where the Supreme Court two years ago upheld a 2015 ruling requiring the government to cut emissions at least 25% by the end of 2020 from benchmark 1990 levels.”


Similar climate change cases against the government are spreading throughout Europe. “In February, a Paris court ruled that the French government had failed to take sufficient action to fight climate change in a case brought by four nongovernmental organizations. Last month, Germany’s top court said the federal government must set clear goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions after 2030.”