Does Milieudefensie stand a chance in the lawsuit against Shell? Five questions | NOW

Thursday is the second hearing day in a lawsuit that is unique in the Netherlands. Milieudefensie tries to enforce a greener policy at Shell through the courts. But why do they do that. And do they have a chance to win the case? Five questions and answers.

In brief:

  • Milieudefensie has filed a case against Shell to get the company to do more to prevent climate change.
  • The organization argues that Shell exposes people to danger by not complying with the Paris climate agreement.
  • Shell believes that the climate treaty is a matter between governments and that the company meets a social need by supplying oil.
  • It is difficult to predict what the judge will find, but there is a good chance that the case will influence Shell’s course in any case.

What exactly does Milieudefensie want?

The case against Shell was already brought two years ago by Milieudefensie, six other environmental organizations including Greenpeace and 17,379 individual co-plaintiffs. Milieudefensie believes that Shell should align its policy with the climate goals of the Paris agreement.

“The big question in this case is: is Shell doing enough to prevent dangerous climate change?”, Says professor of private law at Utrecht University Elbert de Jong. He mainly focuses on corporate liability in the field of climate change. “And if that is not the case, the question is whether the judge should order Shell to do more.”

And does Milieudefensie have a chance?

It is difficult to answer this question from behind a desk, says De Jong. “The legal arguments put forward by Milieudefensie are valid.”

“Milieudefensie says that Shell must comply with the climate treaty and that Shell contributes to dangerous climate change, while this is in violation of the due diligence standard.” This is a general standard that states that you should not expose another to unreasonable dangers. “So the question is: does Shell’s climate change policy also fall under that standard?” Said De Jong. If the judge agrees, Milieudefensie has a chance, the professor thinks.

How does Shell defend itself?

Shell defends itself by saying it is not a government. “Shell says that the climate treaty has been concluded between governments and that it is therefore not relevant for Shell, because it is a company,” says De Jong. “In addition, they say that it is not up to the judge to regulate Shell, but to the government.”

Finally, Shell says it meets a social need. De Jong: “As a society, we are not yet rid of oil, society is asking for it and Shell provides for that question. Can you hold Shell liable for it?”

What happens if Milieudefensie wins?

If Milieudefensie wins this case, it does not immediately mean that Shell will have to change course, says De Jong. “Shell will probably then appeal, and perhaps to the Supreme Court. That will take years. But if Milieudefensie goes and continues to win, Shell will eventually have to adjust its policy.”

What is the impact of this case on Shell’s future?

Whether Milieudefensie wins or not, the case will probably influence the future of Shell anyway, thinks Derk Loorbach. He is director of the transition institute DRIFT and thinks that the case above all shows that there is increasing social pressure on Shell.

“You see in transitions that there are more and more forces that accelerate change in society,” says Loorbach. “It is not that Shell no longer exists from today to tomorrow, but the company is getting more and more shocks, causing it to become unbalanced more quickly. Such a lawsuit can be a considerable shock. It pushes Shell again, regardless of the outcome. the position of defending, causing them to get stuck even more and the pressure on the company to change. ” In short: even if Shell does not have to change anything from the court, there is a good chance that the company cannot do anything else in the long run.


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