By Anne T. Sulton, Ph.D., J.D.
JA Senior International Correspondent
A Dutch court soon will issue a decision in a case alleging Shell Oil Company is responsible for climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
This lawsuit was filed by Milieudefensie, the Dutch arm of Friends of the Earth. For a half century, Milieudefensie has been working to protect the planet. It currently has about 95,000 members and donors.
In its lawsuit, Milieudefensie argues that Shell violates human rights by extracting fossil fuels. It also claims that Shell’s actions undermine international agreements designed to limit global warming.
Milieudefensie is targeting Shell because it is “in the top 10 of the most polluting companies in the world.”
Around the globe, many advocates working to protect the planet have turned to their courts for help in changing the behavior of large corporations involved in the extraction, sale, and burning of fossil fuels.
However, the Milieudefensie lawsuit is different, in part, because “17,379 co-plaintiffs and 6 organizations … joined the lawsuit.”
Milieudefensie reports: “The basis of this case is ‘unlawful endangerment’. This means: you may not cause any major danger while measures can be taken to prevent that danger.” It alleges that “Shell has known since the 1960s that the use of oil and gas has disastrous consequences for the climate.”
Milieudefensie’s lawsuit does not seek “compensation for the damage, but a change in Shell’s policy.”
Regardless of the decision issued by the Dutch court, the Milieudefensie approach to holding large oil companies accountable for their role in global warming is encouraging. It acknowledges that reducing greenhouse gas emissions requires we focus on the source of the global warming problem.
When – by what date certain – will we stop extracting and using those materials we know are harming the planet?