GHG Emissions and Legal Liability

The Court’s decision {excerpt from ICIS}
The District Court of The Hague made a landmark ruling on 26 May [2021] in the case made collectively by the Dutch Friends of Earth (Milieudefensie) and other NGOs versus Royal Dutch Shell (“Shell” or “RDS”) on the issue of whether Dutch law required Shell to limit its CO2 emissions:

  • The basis for the ruling was the court’s decision that Shell was subject to Dutch law due to its HQ being in The Hague. It did not allow similar cases brought by non-Dutch organisations/citizens to proceed as there was not enough “similar interest to join a collective claim”
  • On this basis the court ordered Shell to reduce (or cause to be reduced) the CO2 emissions attributable to its business operations, and its sold products, by at least 45% at end 2030 – relative to the 2019 level
  • The court also ruled that the decision is provisionally enforceable. This means Shell needs to start complying immediately, even if it decides to appeal this decision. This is a critical point as Shell is expected to appeal to the Court of Appeals. And it is likely the case will finally end up, after several years, in the Supreme Court

The impact on Shell’s operations is therefore immediate and very real.

The source case information from the Dutch Judiciary:

CMS article on law suits agains States and Companies:


The first claims have been successful. In the case of Urgenda Foundation v The Netherlands, Dutch courts ordered the government of The Netherlands to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25%. Urgenda Foundation, an environmental NGO, had sued the government on the basis that its climate reduction target of 17% was insufficient. The claim was based on the European Convention on Human Rights, the Dutch constitution and an unwritten duty of care deriving from the Dutch Civil Code, obliging the Dutch government to protect its citizens from the dangers of climate change.

In a similar case in the United States (Juliana v the United States), 21 minors are suing the US government alleging that the lack of regulation of greenhouse gas emissions violates their fundamental rights and the public trust doctrine. That doctrine establishes a state trusteeship of common property and a duty of maintaining the integrity of the natural resources of the country for future generations.}

South Africa: