Fossil fuel firms are being held responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a good thing
History was made in the Hague district court this week. Judge Larisa Alwin ruled that Shell, one of the world’s biggest oil companies, must cut its emissions by 45% by 2030 relative to 2019 levels. Until Wednesday, courts in the Netherlands, France and Germany had concentrated on holding governments to their commitments under the Paris climate deal of 2015. States were found guilty of denying basic rights to future citizens, triggering more ambitious climate plans. The landmark Hague ruling shows that corporations can now be ordered to comply with the goals of the Paris agreement.
Governments are supposed to design the regulatory frameworks and put in place the laws so that companies and households steadily reduce their carbon emissions. But this relies on private entities playing their part. If they do not, preferring to hide behind slick PR, the law can step in. The judge accepted the argument that Shell had failed in its duty to respect human rights by failing to adequately curb its role in global heating. Shell’s goals to mitigate its climate impact, the court found, “largely amount to rather intangible, undefined and non-binding plans for the long term”.