Royal Dutch Shell to face Dutch court in a case brought by environmentalist and human rights groups who demand the energy firm cut its reliance on fossil fuels.

A Shell logo is seen at a petrol station in London, UK, April 28, 2010.
A Shell logo is seen at a petrol station in London, UK, April 28, 2010. (Toby Melville / Reuters)

Environmental groups will face off against Shell at a Dutch court in a landmark bid to force the oil giant to meet emissions targets in the Paris climate accord.

The case being heard in The Hague on Tuesday was launched in 2019 by the Netherlands branch of Friends of the Earth, backed by 17,300 Dutch citizens who have registered as co-complainants.

Six other activist groups including the Dutch branches of Greenpeace and Action Aid are backing the lawsuit against the Anglo-Dutch multinational, whose failure to act "endangers the future of our children," they said.

The 2015 Paris accords committed all nations to cut carbon emissions to limit warming to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and encouraged them to go down to 1.5 degrees.

Friends of the Earth said it was impossible to meet these goals without action from the world's "biggest polluters" such as Shell, which it said emits twice as much carbon dioxide as the entire Netherlands.

"This is a historic moment because we are backed by so many people," Friends of the Earth Netherlands director Donald Pols said in a statement.

"This is actually 'the People versus Shell,' a company that has got away with greenwashing for too long."

Starting Tuesday there will be four days of hearings at a district court in The Hague during December before the case is adjourned. Campaigners don't expect a verdict until next summer.

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Protesters lift a circular tarp painted with an Earth during a rally at Terminal 5 at the Port of Seattle, Monday, May 18, 2015, in Seattle where the Polar Pioneer oil drilling rig and other equipment to be used by Royal Dutch Shell for Arctic oil drilling is currently stationed. Demonstrators were rallying, showing opposition to a lease agreement between Royal Dutch Shell and the Port.
Protesters lift a circular tarp painted with an Earth during a rally at Terminal 5 at the Port of Seattle, Monday, May 18, 2015, in Seattle where the Polar Pioneer oil drilling rig and other equipment to be used by Royal Dutch Shell for Arctic oil drilling is currently stationed. Demonstrators were rallying, showing opposition to a lease agreement between Royal Dutch Shell and the Port. (AP)

'Unique lawsuit'

Shell said the claims in the case were "inappropriate and legally without foundation."

The oil giant has said it will reduce the "net carbon footprint" of the products it sells by 30 percent by 2035, and reach 65 percent by 2050.

"What will accelerate the energy transition is effective policy, investment in technology and changing customer behaviour. None of which will be achieved with this court action," a Shell spokesman said in a statement to AFP.

However campaigners want the court to order Shell to reduce emissions by 45 percent by 2030.

The climate groups would be "asking the judge to oblige Shell to reduce its CO2 emissions in accordance with the CO2 targets as agreed in the Paris climate accord," added Pols.

"This is a unique lawsuit with potentially significant consequences for the climate and the fossil fuel industry globally."

Dozens of climate marchers handed in the lawsuit to Shell's headquarters in the Netherlands in The Hague in April 2019 in what organisers said was the first case of its kind.

According to a report published in 2017 by the Carbon Disclosure Project, Shell was one of the 100 companies responsible for 71 percent of greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.

Climate change is a pressing issue in the Netherlands, where at least a third of the country lies below sea level.

The Dutch government was ordered by a court last year to slash greenhouse gases by at least 25 percent by 2020, following a legal challenge by another environmental group.

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Source: AFP