What has been Shell’s response?
Unsurprisingly, Shell has resisted the ruling, arguing that there is no legal basis for the case and that governments are solely responsible for meeting Paris Climate Agreement targets.
This stance does not take into consideration Shell’s hugely damaging practices, however. The company is responsible for 1% of all global emissions every year, and invests billions more in oil and gas – it remains a hugely heavy polluter, regardless of any one government or state.
Speaking to the Guardian, a Shell spokesperson said that ‘urgent action is needed on climate change’, with an emphasis on the company’s efforts to ‘become a net-zero emissions company by 2050’.
They continued to highlight that Shell is ‘investing billions of dollars in low-carbon energy, including electric vehicle charging, hydrogen, renewables, and biofuels’. The issue is that Shell is ignoring its huge carbon footprint and the damage it causes to the ecosystems of many countries.
Shell’s oil pollution in the Nigeria Delta, for example, has been a major issue for over a decade, yet work to clean the area has only begun on 11% of the promised sites and much of it remains heavily contaminated.
It has been an area of controversy and concern for many years. Since 2007 there have been 1700 oil spills in the Nigeria Delta and Shell is often accused of greenwashing, emphasising green initiatives in PR campaigns instead of changing its behaviour in meaningful and long-term ways.
Between 2010 and 2018, Shell reportedly dedicated only 1% of its long-term investments to sources of low-carbon energy, and has no concrete plans to reduce its overall production of oil and gas by 2030.
You can see why lawsuits are now beginning to gain traction, forcing Shell into making significant changes.
Why is this a big deal for the environment?
Since 1988, 100 companies have been responsible for 71% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
That is a huge percentage covered by relatively few. Pushing these specific organisations to take action will be significant in the fight against climate change and keeping global temperature increases below 1.5 degrees.
It seems clear that most of these companies won’t budge properly until they’re forced to, and this landmark case could serve as an example for other countries to follow suit.
Bas Eickhout, Green MEP for the European parliament’s environment committee, explained that ‘this ruling is really good news for the climate as it increases the pressure on large polluters and helps us in Europe to tighten climate policy’.
We’ll have to see whether this case is the first of many and if Shell’s appeal is successful. Either way, expect more legal pressure like this as the years roll on and the window for meaningful action shrinks.
It’s time for big polluters to take responsibility.