Courts and activists are becoming increasingly important in stopping climate emissions when politicians are unwilling or unable to do so themselves. Here are three recent examples of a new development that gives hope that the goals of the Paris Agreement can be achieved despite the enormous challenge.
A court in the Netherlands yesterday gave the world’s largest oil company Shell a lesson. Their plan to reduce their emissions does not hold. The court orders Shell to reduce its emissions by 45 percent by 2030. More than twice as much as the company planned.
The news agency Reuters writes that the ruling applies to Shell’s worldwide operations.
Lawyers and environmental experts describe the ruling as unique. If it stands, it can be seen as a precedent because it is not only states that must comply with the Paris Agreement but also large companies.
Shell’s carbon dioxide emissions are greater than many states’.
Shell intends to appeal the ruling, but it is still a huge success for activist-led climate work. Behind the lawsuit against Shell is the Dutch branch of the environmental organization Friends of the Earth.
In Australia came another ruling that puts pressure on its own government.
A federal judge has ruled that the country’s environment minister Susan Ley must make a reasonable precautionary measure to prevent Australian children from being harmed, when she decides whether a coal mine in New South Wales should be allowed to significantly expand its activities.
Eight children aged 13-17 had sued the state.
The judge did not stop the mining project but stated very clearly that the mine entails increased emissions and thus an increased risk of future damage. He instructed the parties to talk to each other on the issue.
In other words, the pressure has increased strongly on Ley to think twice before approving an expanded mining operation that would greatly increase emissions from the dirtiest fossil source of all, coal, and thus jeopardize the health of the growing generation.
Another example is the German Constitutional Court, which for a few weeks forced the government to increase the pace of emission reduction on the grounds that there is a duty to protect future generations from the damage of climate change.
At the same time, it brings exciting news from Exxon’s Annual General Meeting in the United States. There, a small hedge fund, Engine No1, with the help of various pension funds, has forced at least two people on the oil company’s board who will help make the company’s management realize that they must change their environmental work.
Investors do this primarily to save their customers’ money.
It seems that the oil companies are both blind and deaf when it comes to the climate threat. They do not seem to realize that they are working in a dying industry that will eventually disappear if they do nothing to convert the business to renewable energy instead.
Today, Exxon, BP, Shell and the other giants are some of the world’s most profitable companies, but they will not be for long if they just continue to pump up oil and natural gas. Demand for their products will decline sharply over the next ten years and even more thereafter.
The head in the sand
Instead, oil companies engage in tricks such as trying to offset their emissions by planting trees or absorbing carbon dioxide and storing it in the ground.
But if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to be achieved, there must be a real, sharp reduction in the use of fossil fuels. It is not enough to plant trees or hide carbon dioxide.
Recently the International Energy Agency, IEA, issued a report claiming that no new oil wells may be used from this year onwards if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to be achieved.
The report was rejected by Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who announced that Norway at least has its own plan and will continue to look for new oil.
Like an ostrich, Solberg puts her head in the sand and hopes that everything will work out anyway. She is far from alone.
Australia is one of the world’s largest coal producers. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that there can be no talk of closing coal mines. Then the jobs are threatened.
Which is true.
But what every responsible and far-sighted government must do is find a way to phase out oil, gas and coal as soon as possible and replace them with renewable energy. Which experts like the IEA say provides many more new jobs than those lost.
Time to lift your head out from the sand.