In a First: Shell Oil Board Members Sued Personally over Climate Neglect

February 9, 2023


Shell Plc faces a new front in climate litigation as lawyers, supported by a group of shareholders, sue the oil giant’s board in the UK.

Two years after a Dutch court ordered Shell to slash its emissions, ClientEarth are filing the first lawsuit of its kind anywhere in the world against 11 members of the board, accusing them of failing to manage the company’s climate risks. 

The environmental law firm is bringing the suit under the UK’s Company Act against Shell’s board at London’s High Court, arguing that the their failure to approve an energy transition strategy that aligns with the Paris Agreement amounts to a breach of a director’s legal duties.

“The board is persisting with a transition strategy that is fundamentally flawed, leaving the company seriously exposed to the risks that climate change poses to Shell’s future success – despite the board’s legal duty to manage those risks,” said Paul Benson, a senior lawyer at ClientEarth.

Trying to hold board members legally accountable for their companies’ contributions to climate change marks a fresh strategy as lawyers and campaigners increasingly turn to the courts to try and pin some of the blame for the climate crisis on Big Oil. In the Netherlands at least, activists have had success.  

Shell was ordered in 2021 by a court in The Hague to slash its greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030 compared to 2019 levels. It’s appealing the ruling as the court’s order is an acceleration of an existing strategy there are aspects of it that are just not feasible, Shell argues.

“Shell’s goal is to become a net zero emissions energy company by 2050,” the company said. “Appealing does not change this.”

Shell already has plans to halve emissions from its own business and the energy it purchases, by 2030 compared to 2016 levels. But those represent less than 10% of its overall carbon footprint, with most planet-warming gases emitted when its customers burn the fuel they buy from Shell. 

Below, Josh Pearce PhD on the fossil fuel industry’s huge, and growing, liability.


3 Responses to “In a First: Shell Oil Board Members Sued Personally over Climate Neglect”

  1. Gingerbaker Says:

    I don’t remember seeing gasoline listed as a Greenhouse gas. Good luck to those plucky Europeans – they are going to need it.

    Meanwhile, the ICC added Environmental Degradation to its definition of Crimes against Humanity. Nobody has attempted to prosecute the oil companies there – why not?

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      “We just sell the stuff. What the buyer plans to do with it is up to them.”

      It’s like tobacco, where the problem comes from the product being used as intended.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        Big Tobacco paid fines voluntarily. Big Oil will not. And why should they? Big Tobacco lied to Congress about the addictive quality of smoking tobacco. But Big Oil did not lie to Congress; they followed all regulations, and the EPA, which actually exists, says the sale of gasoline was and is just Jim Dandy.

        Maybe the law is different in Europe, but in the US, there is no way the courts will find them responsible for anything but keeping our civilization humming along. The use of gasoline as intended harmed not a single soul directly. Driving one’s car gave nobody cancer or heart disease in and of itself. And every single one of us turned our ignition keys knowing full well what we were and are doing to the environment.

        Gasoline is not their crime – propaganda is their crime. Nuremburg should be the model for prosecution imho. Joseph Goebbels never directly killed a single Jew or gypsy. He was Minister of Propaganda for the Third Reich. And he was to have been prosecuted for Crimes Against Humanity. Because his propaganda was indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions. Just like the 30-year secret disinformation campaign by Big Oil.

        Yet, we see no prosecution at the ICC yet. My question is – why not?

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