A GROUNDBREAKING legal case being taken against oil company Shell could have dramatic consequences for the Dutch company’s Scottish North Sea operations, it has been claimed by environmental organisations.

The legal action, being led by Friends of the Earth (FOE) Netherlands on behalf of more than 30,000 people from 70 countries, aims to compel the company to “cease its destruction of the climate”.

Plaintiffs in the case argue that Shell is violating its duty of care and threatening human rights by knowingly undermining the world’s chances to stay below 1.5C, the level agreed to be critical by the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

Key evidence includes documents, dated from the 1980s, that show Shell – along with other key fossil fuel companies – knew that their actions would cause climate change. The documents were published in 2018 by news site De Correspondent.

Shell replied to the FOE court summons – made in April last year – last November and it is expected the case will come to court this summer. Campaigners claim it is likely to be looked upon more favourably by the Dutch legal system than would be elsewhere.

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Roger Cox, who is leading the legal team, also won a landmark climate case in 2015 that insisted the Dutch government should set more ambitious emissions targets.

Campaigners said if the case was to succeed it would force Shell to stop all new oil exploration in the North Sea and make a rapid transition away from fossil fuels and into renewables, which currently account for just 5% of Shell’s investments.

Donald Pols, director of Friends of the Earth Netherlands, told the Sunday National: “Together with the other oil majors, Shell is one of the main actors responsible for climate change.

“I’m surprisingly hopeful [of winning]. This is one of the most complex types of legal cases there is, so of course it will be a challenge.

“But if we look at the arguments, and the responses, I think you can see there really is a case. I’m trying not to be too dramatic but if the judge finds in our favour it could be as significant as the Paris Accord in terms of the impact on mitigating against climate change. It would mean Shell ending all new projects and shifting into renewables.”

As part of its net-zero targets, Shell is decommissioning some of its North Sea rigs and says it is “committed” to offshore wind developments in the future and it has spent billions on low-carbon technologies.

But it is also still “fully committed” to oil and gas in the North Sea with seven final investment decisions made last year, and campaigners say it is not transitioning quickly enough.

This month Shell has been targeted by Extinction Rebellion Scotland in a series of actions targeting the fossil fuel industry and aimed at highlighting the need for multinationals – and the Scottish Government – to take action. Pols said protests against Shell elsewhere were encouraging to Dutch campaigners. “We see the actions taken in Scotland and elsewhere and they empower us,” he added.

The National: Extinction Rebellion has taken action against ShellExtinction Rebellion has taken action against Shell

A spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion Scotland said: “We want Shell and the rest of the fossil fuel industry to tell the truth about their role in the climate crisis, and to halt their billion dollar misinformation and lobbying campaign to undermine belief in climate science and action on climate change.”

Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “No oil company is yet taking moral responsibility for the product they produce but the Dutch court case could be the first time a major fossil fuel industry player had to face the fact that they cannot continue to simply blame everyone using their products for the climate emergency.

“If the court action in the Netherlands succeeds in forcing Shell to take climate change seriously it will be an incredibly important victory against the oil industry in general.

“If Shell had to actually operate in alignment with the Paris climate agreement they would have to abandon all new exploration, plan for the end of production in their current fields and reinvent themselves as an energy company on its way out of fossil fuels.

“There would be an immediate consequence for their operations in the North Sea which would need to plan for a phased wind down. Most importantly every oil company in the world, and the governments that support them, would become potential targets for legal action to force them to take climate change seriously.”

Greenpeace has also been involved in recent protests against Shell and in December was banned from carrying out climate protests on North Sea oil rigs after the oil giant won a Scottish court order against the campaign group.

Campaigners had boarded two oil platforms in October to protest against plans by the company to leave part of old structures in the sea during decommissioning.

Richard George of Greenpeace UK said: “The 2010s were the hottest decade on record, and the effects of our warming climate are already being felt. Whether it’s deadly fires in Australia, floods in Indonesia or drought in sub-Saharan Africa, oil companies like Shell and BP bear much of the blame for climate breakdown.

“The Oil and Gas Authority itself has warned this week that the industry’s social licence is under threat, and called for bigger and faster action on the climate. Instead of focusing their efforts on battling climate campaigners, we urge oil companies to phase down their drilling in the North Sea and globally.”

ROBIN Parker, climate and energy policy manager from the World Wildlife Fund Scotland, agreed and said plans for a “just transition” from fossil fuels to renewables was needed urgently.

“That means accelerated investment in producing electricity from renewable sources, and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels for how we heat our homes and travel round,” he added.

“The science is clear, in order to reduce the risk of dangerous global climate change and to meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves need to be left in the ground unburned.”

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “While relevant tax and regulatory powers are reserved to UK ministers, the Scottish Government’s continued support for oil and gas businesses operating in the North Sea is conditional upon contributing to a sustainable, secure and inclusive energy transition.”

She said it supported the industry’s Roadmap 2035 that sets out plans to decarbonise the remaining production in the North Sea.

“We strongly support the development of renewables, with Scotland’s sector continuing to make a huge contribution to meeting our energy needs and those of the UK,” she added.

“As the pace of our transition to a net-zero future increases, the need to ensure it is just becomes ever more important. For this reason, the Scottish Government has included just transition principles in our climate change legislation.”

The Government’s Just Transition Commission, looking at how plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2045 can be done in a way that’s fair to workers, is due to publish an interim report next month, with a final one due in January 2021.

A spokesperson for Shell said: “The heightened awareness of climate change that we have seen over recent months is a good thing. As a company, we agree that urgent action is needed, so we fully support the Paris Agreement and the need for society to transition to a lower-carbon future.

“We are committed to playing our part, by addressing our own emissions and helping customers to reduce theirs – because we all have a role to play.

“What will really accelerate change is effective policy, investment in technology innovation and deployment, and changing customer behaviour. Shell has already invested billions of dollars in a range of low-carbon technologies, from biofuels, hydrogen and wind power, to electric vehicle charging and smart energy storage solutions.”