Yesterday, a Dutch court ruled that Shell, a company based in the Netherlands, must reduce its carbon emissions to combat climate change. Even though Shell will appeal this decision, and although the general applicability of this ruling may be limited (a decision by a Dutch court concerning a Dutch company), it is significant in that a court has now applied the recommendations of climate science (e.g., a specific numerical target of emission reductions) to impose obligations on an individual company (as opposed to a government). When companies consider their legal exposure to climate change litigation, this decision should figure in any such assessment.

A Dutch court ruled Wednesday that Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, must accelerate its efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to tackle climate change. The District Court in The Hague ruled that Shell was “obliged” to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions of its activities by 45 percent at the end of 2030 compared with 2019. Shell has already adopted targets for emissions reduction, but the terms of the court’s decision could require the company to substantially accelerate the process of reducing emissions-producing fuels like oil and gas.