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A Loss for Shell (and You)

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An oil tank truck fills the pumps at a Shell petrol station in Sao Paulo, Brazil, May 31, 2019. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

Welcome to the Capital Note, a newsletter about business, finance, and economics. On the menu today: Shell’s legal defeat, Biden and Arctic oil, Putin and Arctic oil, Putin and coal, and the ransomware negotiator. To sign up for the Capital Note, follow this link.

Hollowing out Shell
I spent a lot of the most recent Capital Letter looking at the attack on three oil companies — Exxon, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell. Exxon and Chevron had to deal with shareholder activism, but Shell had to face the wrath of a Dutch judge.

To borrow (again!) from the Financial Times report on the case:

A court has ordered Royal Dutch Shell to accelerate its strategy for the energy transition by making steeper and quicker cuts to greenhouse gas emissions than it had planned. The landmark ruling could spur legal cases against other oil and gas companies, as well as other big corporate polluters . . .

The judge in the district court in The Hague ruled on Wednesday that Shell must cut its net carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 against 2019 levels on an absolute basis, in line with a global push to prevent temperatures rising more than 1.5C above preindustrial levels. The judge said the company had violated a duty of care obligation regarding the human rights of those affected by climate change.

This, I wrote, was “junk law . . . a reminder of how, in the hands of a politicized judiciary, human rights can mean whatever some judge can want it to mean.” I cannot say that I have changed my view since then.

Back to the FT (my emphasis added):

Previous climate cases have largely been focused on liability suits, forcing oil companies to pay damages for past behaviour. But Wednesday’s first-of-a-kind ruling demands a change in Shell’s strategy for the future, setting a precedent not just for energy companies but all big greenhouse gas emitters. It could herald a wave of this new style

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