Maybe it was wrong to push Shakespeare Henry VI“First we kill all lawyers.” Yesterday, Dutch lawyers won a historic court case against the Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company that has had the most profound effects on defusing the climate emergency. The court ordered Shell to align its global activities with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This requires Shell to collapse both of its own and its customers Greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent compared to 2019 to 2030.
Coupled with shareholder revolts calling for stronger climate action from ExxonMobil and Chevron, the Dutch court ruling made May 26 one of the biggest climate news days in years. Following last week’s landmark report by the International Energy Agency declaring that new fossil fuel development for the planet must be halted to avoid irreversible climate degradation, the events mark a devastating rejection of Big Oil’s longstanding claim that its gains are more important than the survival of civilization.
The Dutch case is particularly noteworthy for three reasons. First, “because it is the first time that a judge has ordered a major polluting company to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement,” said Roger Cox, lawyer for Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie in Dutch), who brought the case with 17,000 other plaintiffs –told The guard. Second, because the judge held that the company’s interest in emissions reductions took precedence over the economic damage it would cause Shell to suffer. And third, and perhaps most broadly, because Shell needs to cut not only its direct emissions – the heat scavenger gases Shell releases when it drills for oil, refines it, and brings it to market – but also the company’s indirect emissions, the gases Share in millions of customers around the world when they use Shell’s gasoline and other products. As a climate activist Greta Thunberg watchedThis latter provision makes the court ruling such a “game changer”. If other countries followed the same logic, fossil fuel companies would have to leave much of their product in the ground, as climate science believes is essential.
Currently the court ruling is only final in the Netherlands and although the judge has instructed Shell to cut emissions “immediately”, the company is appealing the ruling.
Meanwhile it is Shareholder uprisings Against the management of ExxonMobil and Chevron, an additional signal of public impatience flashes with Big Oil’s intransigence. The annual votes cast by shareholders of publicly owned companies almost always cast the positions of stamp management. At Exxon, however, at least two management candidates for the company’s board of directors have been defeated. The opposition was supported by a hedge fund, Engine No. 1, and pension funds from California and New York. The fate of two additional directorships was unclear at the time this article went to press. The vote was still too short to call them. “This is a milestone for Exxon and the industry,” said Andrew Logan of Ceres, a nonprofit investor group told The New York Times. “How the industry reacts … will determine which companies will thrive and which will wither through the coming transition.”
All in all, climate history has taken a decisive turn; Big Oil’s fortress walls, which have been the toughest obstacles to climate action for decades, could eventually collapse. For journalists, these developments offer countless new perspectives and clearly illustrate why it is important not to interrupt climate reporting about the weather or the scientific beats. The abandonment of fossil fuels and the rapid transition to renewable energy sources will have enormous economic, political, social, and even cultural implications that journalists must now make clear to both the public and policy makers. As we often say at Covering Climate Now, climate change is the defining story of our time – and now it is time for the newsrooms to tell it as forcefully and rigorously as possible.