Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A group of climate activists who have been cycling around the Netherlands to draw attention to their case against Shell arrived at the Court of Justice on December 1, 2020. (Photo: Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Friends of the Earth vs. Shell: 'Historic Moment' as Climate Movement Takes on Big Oil at The Hague

"This is actually 'the People versus Shell,' a company that has got away with greenwashing for too long."

Julia Conley, staff writer

Representing more than 17,000 claimants who support climate action, the international organization Friends of the Earth on Tuesday opened its case against fossil fuel giant Shell at The Hague by demanding that a judge order the corporation to significantly reduce its carbon emissions in the next decade.

Milieudefensie, the Dutch arm of Friends of the Earth, says Shell has broken the law in The Netherlands by knowingly standing in the way of the country's phase-out of fossil fuels. Shell says it has set a goal of cutting its emissions to net zero by 2050, but the group is demanding a more rapid reduction. 

"We are relying on the Dutch courts to protect communities around the globe," tweeted Nils Mollema, a policy advisor at ActionAid, which is supporting Milieudefensie in the case. 

The case comes five years after the Dutch government was ordered to reduce its emissions by at least 25% from 1990 levels by the end of 2020. Under the Paris climate agreement, the European Union has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030. 

"The main argument of Shell is that everybody is responsible: the consumer, the state, the international community, everybody is responsible except Shell, except the biggest polluter of the Netherlands, one of the 10 biggest polluters in the world."
—Donald Pols, Milieudefensie

"The claimants therefore conclude that Royal Dutch Shell's corporate policy is on collision course with global climate targets," Roger Cox, a lawyer representing Milieudefensie in the civil case, told a panel of three judges at The Hague District Court on Tuesday. 

The organization has vehemently rejected Shell's defense in the case, in which the multinational corporation is suggesting that it is no more responsible for solving the climate emergency than other businesses or individuals.

"What will accelerate the energy transition is effective policy, investment in technology, and changing customer behavior," Shell said Tuesday as the first of four days of hearings began. "None of which will be achieved with this court action."

Cox noted in his opening remarks that Shell is responsible for about 1.2% of the planet's industrial fossil fuel emissions.

"The main argument of Shell is that everybody is responsible: the consumer, the state, the international community, everybody is responsible except Shell, except the biggest polluter of the Netherlands, one of the 10 biggest polluters in the world," said Donald Pols, director of Milieudefensie, on Monday. "And we are going to change that."

The case opened a month after Shell drew outrage from climate action campaigners by posting a poll on its official Twitter account, asking ordinary citizens what they plan to do to help mitigate the climate crisis. 

"I'm willing to hold you accountable for lying about climate change for 30 years when you secretly knew the entire time that fossil fuels emissions would destroy our planet," U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) replied at the time, denouncing the company's "audacity."

On Monday, Pols called the opening of the case at The Hague "a historic moment."

"This is actually 'the People versus Shell,' a company that has got away with greenwashing for too long," he said in statement. "This case will make it clear to everyone that more than 95% of what Shell does is causing dangerous climate change. This has to change as soon as possible.” 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
We need your help.

Support progressive journalism.

Common Dreams is not your average news site. We don't survive on clicks or advertising dollars. We rely entirely on your support. And without it, our independent progressive journalism simply wouldn’t exist. Every gift of every amount matters.

Join the fight and support our common dreams today.

Summit Participants Embrace 'Vaccine Internationalism' to End Pandemic

"Our goal is simple: to end the pandemic as quickly as possible by securing Covid-19 vaccines for all," says the coordinator of Progressive International's four-day virtual summit.

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·


As Iran Elects New President, Experts Urge Biden to Rejoin Nuclear Deal, Lift Sanctions

"The Biden administration must remain resolute and seek a break from the disastrous conditions that helped contribute to this result."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·


UN General Assembly Condemns Myanmar Junta Violence, Urges Arms Embargo

Member nations voted 119-1 in favor of the resolution, which also calls for a return to the country's fragile democracy.

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·


Dems Introduce Abolition Amendment to Scrap Constitution's 'Slavery Clause'

"The loophole in our Constitution's ban on slavery not only allowed slavery to continue, but launched an era of discrimination and mass incarceration that continues to this day," said Sen. Jeff Merkley.

Julia Conley, staff writer ·


'Surreal' and 'Distressing': Climate Experts' Predictions Come True With US Heatwave

"The current heatwave and drought leave no doubt, we are living the dangerous effects of the climate crisis."

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·