"Can there be a safe climate without regulating large pollutants, such as the oil multinational Shell?"
This is the question behind the lawsuit led by the Dutch branch of the Friends of the Earth organization, which comes to court in the Netherlands on Tuesday.
The case sets a precedent by asking the judges to order the company to reduce, by 2030, 45% of its CO2 emissions, compared to 2019. To achieve this, they appeal to what they consider to be the essence of the climate change problem, that is, the violation of articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, dedicated to the right to life and family life.
According to the plaintiffs, with its current oil and gas extractions, Shell knowingly ruins the possibility that the planet's temperature will not rise more than 1.5 ° C, in line with the Paris Agreement against climate change.
On the eve of appearing before a court of First Instance in the city of The Hague, the firm shares the need to contain climate change, but not through the courts.
Instead, it proposes greater investments in technology, effective policies and a change in the habits of the fossil fuel consumer, to be a company, according to its spokesmen, of "zero emissions in 2050, or earlier."
Shell's headquarters are in the Netherlands, which is why Friends of the Earth has stepped up on its own ground.
The NGO considers that until now it has been very difficult to call the oil company a chapter given its close relationship with successive coalitions in power, which have often had ministers who worked for it.
He also designates it as "one of the 25 firms that, together, produce 50% of the world's greenhouse gases."
Among the others, there is the American Exxon, the British BP, the French Total or the Italian Eni.
The environmental organization indicates that the CO2 emitted internationally by Shell amounts to twice that produced by the entire Dutch economy, according to the measurements of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol, in English).
It is used to calculate emissions and achieve their reduction on a global scale, and was developed in 1998 by an international alliance of companies, NGOs, Governments and academic institutions, convened by the World Resources Institute (WRI, in its English acronym) and the Council World Business for Sustainable Development (WBCSD, also in English).
“The Protocol is a tool also used by Shell to measure its CO2 load, and that has made things much easier when it comes to presenting our data on demand.
Another push has been that the leadership of the multinational itself proclaims its desire to cut these gases.
However, despite the fact that 95% of his investments contribute to climate change, he insists that shareholders only look at the accounting profits, ”says Donald Pols, director of Friends of the Earth in the Netherlands, in conversation telephone.
And he adds, with some irony: “We would not have addressed the case of not believing that we can win it, but it seems that only by going to court can we achieve a change in the company.
And don't forget that Dutch law is very concerned that companies do not cause harm with their activities ”.
The NGO is joined in the lawsuit by six other local environmental organizations and more than 17,000 citizens, and has close to one million supporters in 70 countries.
"The half a million euros that it has cost to get here has been paid with donations from people," explains Pols.
The first to appeal for the violation of human rights on climate change issues was the Dutch environmental NGO Urgenda, which in 2019 managed to get the Supreme Court of its country to force the Government to reduce, by 2020, carbon dioxide emissions 25% compared to those of 1990. It was a historic victory, because in 2015 it had already set a world precedent by getting the judges to demand that reduction from the Executive.
This October, compliance with the sentence was presented as possible only if the second wave of the pandemic was manageable, and it was not too cold in winter, due to the energy expenditure required, according to a report prepared, among others, by the Institute for the Health and the Environment (RIVM, in its Dutch acronym) and the Central Statistical Office.
Friends of the Earth has followed in Urgenda's wake and, if they win their lawsuit, they believe that the case would have an echo in the European Union and possibly the world.
What's more, they believe that to protect themselves from similar litigation, other companies will eventually cut their CO2 emissions.
Shell spokespersons recall that while companies are not part of the Paris Climate Agreement, “our business plans are changing with society, and we have already taken important steps to achieve greenhouse gas reduction with our investments in solar and wind energy;
chargers for electric vehicles and solutions to energy storage ”.
In its documentation, the firm points out the role of energy as the engine of the world economy and the challenge of the transition to a world with less CO2, while stressing that there are more than one billion people without access to energy and its Benefits.
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