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  April 11, 18

#ShellKnew: Green Group Sues Oil Giant Over Climate Impact

Internal documents show the oil giant has known for decades that fossil fuel activities would lead to catastrophic climate change, and that it deliberately mislead the public. Friends of the Earth Netherlands says it will take Shell to court if it doesn't do more to cut its climate impact. We speak to campaign leader Freek Bersch
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SHARMINI PERIES: It's the Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. A trove of internal documents and reports of the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell shows that oil giant also had known for three decades that fossil fuel products would lead to catastrophic climate change. This according to an investigative report done by the Dutch newspaper De Correspondent. Interestingly, Shell back then also predicted that environmental and NGOs would sue fossil fuel companies claiming damages for extreme weather on the grounds of neglecting what scientists have been saying for years. And it turns out that Milieudefensie, the Dutch wing of Friends of the Earth, has done just that, filing a lawsuit against Shell requiring them to comply with climate targets set out by the Paris agreement to limit global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius. With us to discuss the lawsuit is Freek Bersch, who is a campaign leader at Milieudefensie, Friends of the Earth in Netherlands. I thank you so much for joining us, Freek.

FREEK BERSCH: You're welcome.

SHARMINI PERIES: Freek, tell us more about what you hope to achieve with this lawsuit against Shell.

FREEK BERSCH: What we hope to achieve is that Shell will change its business strategy and put it in line with the climate agreement, which would mean that they phase out oil and gas, and aim for net zero emissions by the middle of the century.

SHARMINI PERIES: Freek, tell us a little bit about Shell's legacy. What are the particularly devastating effects that Shell has had in different parts of the world?

FREEK BERSCH: Yes, so Shell knows that they have been having a big impact on the climate, and therefore the world, at least since the '80s. Actually, we just found out in these recently released documents that they first have been warned in 1962 already. And all this time they have continued to invest in more oil and gas, and they haven't really considered changing away from that despite what, well, they have considered the end of the '90s. But they already also rolled back those those ideas, and have started investing in the dirtiest forms of fossil fuels, like tar sands in Canada, shale gas, and other nonconventional forms of fossil fuels.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. And Freek, could this effectively shut down Shell's operation around the world?

FREEK BERSCH: That would be their decision to make. If the judge agrees with us then it's up to Shell to decide whether they will start transforming into a sustainable energy company, which they could do by investing only in sustainable solution from now on, and phasing out fossil fuels. They could also decide to stop investing at all, and just having all the capital and the profits that they have left. They could also hand that over to their Shell shareholders, and basically phasing out all their activities.

It could force Shell to phase out their oil and gas, so it could effectively shut down a lot of their activities right now because they are not compliant with the Paris agreements.

SHARMINI PERIES: So if you are successful and this case goes ahead, and the judge agrees with you, how far would this go in terms of limiting climate change, in your assessment.?

FREEK BERSCH: The parts for which Shell is responsible in the total of climate change has been calculated to be about 2 percent, historically. So there are, they have 1/50 of all the emissions are on their parts. So if we can force them to change their course that would be a very big deal. But also if the judge agrees with us this could mean that other fossil fuel companies could also be held liable for the climate damage that they do, so it also could impact all their activities as well.

SHARMINI PERIES: Freek, when might the case come to trial?

FREEK BERSCH: When Shell doesn't comply to our demands, then we would file the lawsuit itself later this year. And lawsuits, lawsuits take some time. So probably next year will be the first hearing, and maybe the year after could be a first verdict.

SHARMINI PERIES: If we go back, a similar cache of leaked internal documents from Exxon Mobil led to an investigative report and ongoing legal lawsuits including ones by the attorney general of New York and the state of Massachusetts. Could these cases have a long-term effect in terms of shifting the business model, or the business-as-usual model, for oil and other fossil fuel companies to seriously think more innovatively about shifting their priorities, investment, and the ways in which they do business to cleaner energies?

FREEK BERSCH: I hope they can. I mean, what we are pursuing is that Shell as a fossil fuel company is really held liable, so held responsible for the damage that they do. So when the judge also thinks like this, that's, that means that every new oil and gas project that they pursue would increase the risk for them to be held liable for new damages that they do. So if they are smart and if they want to prevent more lawsuits and more consequences, then they have to transform. All right, Freek. We've been speaking with Freek Bersch. He's with the organization Milieudefensie, Friends of the Earth in Netherlands. I thank you so much for joining us today.

FREEK BERSCH: Thank you.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.


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