Court and investors turn screw on oil leviathans to speed up decarbonisation


Legal and shareholder pressure on global fossil fuel extractors ratcheted still tighter yesterday, as Shell, Exxon and Chevron were separately ordered by institutions to cut polluting emissions faster and deeper.

In a landmark ruling a Dutch district court yesterday ordered Shell to cut its CO2e emissions, including downstream among its customers, by 45% on its 2019 figures, and before 2030.   Announced a year ago, the Anglo-Dutch giant’s deadline for Net Zero had been 2050; those targets cover only its scope one and two emissions.

Judge Larisa Alwin ruled that the oilco’s declarations were insufficiently stringent to meet the requirements of the Paris climate accords which it had cited.

Shell has a legal duty of care towards its customers and society, she added. The company, its suppliers and customers must immediately cut their emissions.

“The interest served with the reduction obligation outweighs the Shell group’s commercial interests”, judge Alwin ruled.

Shell vowed to appeal, but green groups were ecstatic. Friends of the Earth Nederland had sued Shell on behalf of six petitioning civil society groups.

Roger Cox, lawyer for two of the NGOs, urged organisations across the world to “pick up the gauntlet” and force oilcos via the courts to play their full part in tackling the climate emergency.

Campaigners believe the Dutch verdict is the first successful suit against an oil company in respect of its Net Zero timetable.

In December 2019, allegations from New York state’s attorney general that Exxon misled investors about the risks of climate change were rejected by the state’s supreme court.

The fossil behemoth, subject of the Exxon Knew allegations which it rejects, yesterday faced a shareholder revolt, as maverick green investor Engine No. 1 secured two seats on its board.

Backed by BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager and a frequent scourge of corporate foot-dragging over the climate, Engine No. 1 secured two of the four Exxon directorships believed to be targets of BlackRock. The finance leviathan owns 6.7% of Exxon’s equity.  Legal & General are also believed to be partners in the mini-putsch .

Chevron completed the day of oil woe. Its shareholders voted 61% to support a call from activist investors Follow This to speed up its Net Zero journey.  Founded by Mark van Waal in 2015, the group also ran recent revolts by shareholders of ConocoPhillips and Phillips66.


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