News / 27 November 2020

Climate case against Shell is particularly crucial for the Global South

Next week, the climate case brought against Royal Dutch Shell by Dutch environmental organisation Milieudefensie is due to start. Milieudefensie hopes to force the company to stop causing dangerous climate change and adopt a more sustainable course. Six Dutch organisations have decided to become co-plaintiffs in the case. They include ActionAid and Both ENDS, organisations that work outside the Netherlands on human rights, gender equality, environment and sustainable development. Though, at first glance, the case may not seem relevant to them, nothing is farther from the truth, as Nils Mollema of ActionAid and Niels Hazekamp of Both ENDS explain.

"As organisations that work to promote human rights, gender equality, the environment and sustainable development, it is logical for ActionAid and Both ENDS to be co-plaintiffs in this case," says Mollema. "We have been working for decades – together with local organisations in developing countries – on combating the effects of climate change, to which Shell contributes. So deciding to be co-plaintiffs ties in very closely with our work. We defend all those people who have made little or no contribution to climate change but who suffer the consequences directly."

What does Shell have to do with climate change in other countries?

"Shell may have its headquarters in the Netherlands, but it operates on a global scale," says Hazekamp. "And the climate changes caused by how Shell's products are manufactured and used do not respect national borders. The damage caused by climate change cancels out much of the development achieved in countries like Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and many others."

"Take Hurricane Idai, which raged across Mozambique in March 2019," says Mollema. "The damage it caused was far more than the whole country earns in a whole year! As a result of climate change, such events have unfortunately become more frequent. At ActionAid and Both ENDS, we see that socially deprived groups like indigenous people and women are generally affected earlier and more severely by climate change. Indigenous people because they are often completely dependent on the natural environment for their survival. And women because, in areas like Mozambique that are hardest hit by climate change, they are often responsible for feeding their families. That means they are dependent on the availability of fertile land and sufficient clean drinking water. Severe drought, flooding or salinisation of the land due to rising sea levels make it very difficult, if not impossible, for these people to survive."

"Big companies like Shell cause serious climate changes in countries like Mozambique that have contributed to it the least," says Hazekamp. "Shell's 'sustainable' plans have so far been seriously inadequate if we are to achieve the goal agreed in Paris to keep global warming below two degrees. On the contrary, warming will be much higher, with all the consequences that will bring. We need Shell to play its part if we are to limit global warming and thus ensure that drought and flooding cannot cause even more damage."

Why is this case so important?

"This is the first time that a company like Royal Dutch Shell has been called to account for its global impact on climate change," says Mollema. "Mostly, businesses fall through the legal loopholes in the system. It is important that everyone makes their contribution and takes their responsibility, and that includes Shell."

"Moreover," says Hazekamp, "Shell was one of the first to know that fossil fuels contribute directly to global warming and the disastrous effects that exploiting them would have. And yet it chose for short-term profits and an untenable economic model. Climate change is already having an enormous impact on the current generation, and years of talking to Shell have produced no results at all. That's why taking the company to court is the only remaining option."

What impact do you hope that the case will have around the world?

"I hope that it will create a precedent", says Mollema. "It would be fantastic if it could become a sort of road map for how people throughout the world can call companies to account for their policies and actions, and force them to face up to their responsibilities. Going to court is of course an emergency measure, a kind of last resort, but we have seen that many companies are not sufficiently taking their responsibility, and there is no time left to wait for them to do that of their own accord."

What does this case mean for you personally? Why does it give you so much energy?

"The potential of this case gives us a great deal of energy," says Hazekamp. "People have been calling on Shell for a long time to take action to combat global warming and adopt a different course. After so many years in which Shell has known that it has to take action and has done nothing, all the facts are now in the hands of the court. The main question is whether Shell has knowingly and illegitimately put people in danger. I am certain that is the case."

"Personally, I think what I've already mentioned provides me with sufficient motivation," says Mollema. "But there is more at stake. I derive a lot of energy from the reactions we receive from our partners and federation members in other countries. This case has given hope to a lot of people around the world."

Also take a look at this video:

A number of people in countries that are already feeling the harsh impacts of climate change, explain why this case is so important for them


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