Yesterday, May 26, a Dutch court ordered Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) to cut its carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 compared with 2019 levels in a case brought by climate activist groups. The Hague District Court ruled that the Anglo-Dutch energy company has a duty to care about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and that its current reduction plans were not concrete enough.
If that language sounds like the court is declaring a company has a fiduciary duty (to future generations? to current populations? to the earth?) to reduce emissions, you’re not mistaken. Getting a legal opinion that fossil companies have a fiduciary duty to reduce carbon emissions has been a major goal of groups working to head off the worst of future increases in global carbon emissions and global temperatures.
The decision could set a precedent for similar cases against polluting multinationals—-including ExxonMobil, one of the biggest corporate greenhouse gas emitters in the world. And the ruling marked a new assertion of judicial authority in a climate matter.
The legal battle has not been settled by any means and I’d expect oil companies to fight the implication of this ruling in courts in their own countries. But this is a huge step toward creating a new fiduciary responsibility for carbon emitters.