Milieudefensie v. Royal Dutch Shell: Historic Business & Human Rights Case

Today, in a history-making judgment in the case brought by Milieudefensie and other climate activist groups and NGOs, the Hague District Court found that the corporate actor Royal Dutch Shell has obligations to fight climate change. Specifically, it found that RDS must reduce its emissions by 45% by 2030, and that potential sacrifices that this might require in terms of corporate growth or investments do not outweigh the risks of harms posed by climate change. The Court in particular underscored the impact that RDS has in terms of emissions, it capacity to make a change in this regard, and the harmful effects of climate change in finding that the corporation not only had an obligation of result to reduce its emissions, but also an obligation of conduct to encourage suppliers and consumers to reduce their emissions.

The Court held that because Royal Dutch Shell has the “power and the means” to reduce harmful CO2 emissions, it has to do its part in this regard, which is not contingent on reductions by other actors. During the sessions, RDS argued that it alone cannot prevent climate change. The Hague District Court agreed, but found that this was not what was required, as States, other corporations and individuals are equally responsible for reducing their emissions. It dismissed this argument on the basis that RDS was not solely being held responsible for dangerous climate change, finding that the responsibility of others cannot serve to invalidate RDS’s own obligations.

RDS also argued that, that if was no longer able to trade in fossil fuels, others would take its place in doing so. The Court again noted that all actors must reduce their CO2 emissions, not just RDS. This might limit growth and new investments by RDS, but these possible sacrifices must be taken into account in the fight against dangerous climate change.

The judgment, in Dutch, was delivered via livestream.

For a translation of this ground-breaking judgment into English, see

On 4 June, Lucas Roorda and the Utrecht Centre for Accountability and Liability Law will organize a discussion of this case at 15h. Send an e-mail to UCALL-Studentassistent@[nospam] to join.

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