For Immediate Release


Amanda Kistler, Communications Director, CIEL:, +001.202.742.5832

Historic Climate Lawsuit Against Shell Filed in the Netherlands

WASHINGTON - The Hague — Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie) filed suit today against Royal Dutch Shell in the Netherlands to legally compel the company to address its role in the climate crisis. The case was filed on behalf seven organizations and more than 17,000 individual plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs argue that Shell is violating applicable duties of care and threatening human rights by knowingly undermining the world’s chances to stay below 1.5 degrees. They seek to compel the company to reduce its CO2 emissions by 45 percent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels and to zero by 2050, in line with Paris Climate Agreement and the recent findings of the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5C. According to the IPCC, meeting these goals will require the rapid transition of the economy away from the fossil fuels that form the basis of Shell’s current business model.

The 236-page complaint highlights Royal Dutch Shell’s early knowledge of climate change and the company’s own role in causing the climate crisis. It draws on extensive research undertaken by researchers and investigators over the last several years, including CIEL’s 2018 report A Crack in the Shell.

Despite acknowledging that the fossil fuel industry has a responsibility to act on climate change, and claiming to “strongly support” the Paris Agreement, Shell continues to lobby against climate policy and to invest billions in further oil and gas extraction, according to the complaint. The complaint alleges that this conduct is fundamentally incompatible with climate goals and with Shell’s legal duties under Dutch law.

Today’s filing against Shell is only the latest in a rising tide of climate litigation against major fossil fuel producers worldwide. This includes ongoing litigation against RWE, Germany’s largest coal producer; a multi-year investigation by the Philippines Commission on Human Rights into the responsibility of major oil companies for climate-related rights violations in that country; and active litigation or investigations into Shell and other big oil companies by at least 15 city, county, and state governments in the United States.

Carroll Muffett, President of the Center for International Environmental Law, stated:


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“The IPCC has warned that window of action for avoiding irreversible and truly catastrophic climate harms is narrow and closing rapidly. Today’s suit against Shell sends a clear signal that business as usual is no longer acceptable. Companies that continue ignoring climate risks can and will be held legally accountable and financially responsible for their actions. Investors and corporate decision-makers who ignore this new reality do so at their peril.”


Amanda Kistler, Communications Director, CIEL:, +001.202.742.5832

References and Notes for editors:

  • Legal summons summary: here.
  • Legal Summons in full, unofficial translation from Dutch original: here.
  • Interview with Roger Coxleading lawyer in Friends of the Earth’s case against Shell
  • For a review of evidence of Shell’s early knowledge of climate risks, see: A Crack in the Shell

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Since 1989, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has worked to strengthen and use international law and institutions to protect the environment, promote human health, and ensure a just and sustainable society.

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