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Oil and gas firms could face fresh legal action by activist groups

Oil and gas firms could face fresh legal action by activist groups as investors demand stock market-listed firms align with Paris climate goals

Major oil and gas firms including BP and Shell could face fresh legal action by activist groups as investors demand stock market-listed firms align with Paris climate goals. 

The wave of potential lawsuits could also target Chevron and Exxon and other heavy industry majors such as Ineos, the petrochemicals giant controlled by billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, and biomass power firm Drax. 

Amsterdam-based environmental group Fossielvrij NL has told The Mail on Sunday it is preparing to sue ABP – the Dutch Government’s giant pension fund and one of the world’s largest pension investors – to force it to sell its stakes in fossil fuel companies. 

Fight: Friends of the Earth Netherlands won a landmark legal battle against Shell in The Hague, and said it is looking to target other major fossil fuel companies

Fossielvrij director Liset Meddens said potential legal action would be filed jointly with the pensions scheme’s members. 

It is understood a lawsuit would explore how they could take legal action to allow them to leave the fund in protest over its investments in firms such as Shell, Exxon, Chevron, BP and Glencore. Meddens said: ‘We are talking to international law funds and lawyers about preparing a potential lawsuit.’ 

ABP has offices in the Netherlands, Brussels, New York, Hong Kong and China. As of the end of May, it managed €509billion on behalf of 2.9million civil servants and teachers. It has already stopped investing in firms that make landmines, nuclear weapons and tobacco products – and is aiming for a fifth of its assets to make a ‘measurable contribution’ to sustainable development goals by 2025. 

But since October, more than 16,000 of ABP’s members have backed a petition, launched by Fossielvrij NL, to divest its fossil fuel investments, and hundreds protested at its offices in Amsterdam and Heerlen on Friday. 

That follows court action by Friends of the Earth Netherlands, which won a landmark legal battle against Shell in The Hague last month, and said it is looking to target other major fossil fuel companies, focusing on Dutch firms. 

Environmental group ClientEarth also told the MoS it is exploring legal action to potentially challenge energy companies that ‘greenwash’ their climate change claims. ClientEarth lawyer Johnny White called the Shell case – where the court ordered the firm to cut carbon emissions by 45 per cent by the end of 2035 compared to 2019 levels – a ‘game-changer for climate litigation’. He said: ‘Given this result, we can expect further legal challenges to fossil fuel companies that refuse to meaningfully transition their businesses with the urgency needed.’ 

Since the May ruling, Friends of the Earth has been contacted by groups around the world looking to make similar claims and has shared information with others keen to target large polluters. 

ClientEarth filed a legal complaint against BP in 2019 over greenwashing in its corporate advertising. Its next targets could include Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Total, Drax, Ineos, Aramco, Equinor and RWE. 

The nine firms were named in ClientEarth’s ‘greenwashing files’, published in April, which alleged they had used advertising to ‘greenwash’ their contribution to tackling climate change. White said this research put the firms ‘on notice’ of litigation, adding: ‘Fossil fuel firms need to stop suggesting wrongly they are part of the solution, otherwise they leave themselves open to challenge.’

A spokesman for Shell said: ‘We agree urgent action is needed on climate change and while we expect to appeal the ruling [in The Hague] we want to rise to the challenge and accelerate our existing strategy.’ 

French group Notre Affaire A Tous is leading a lawsuit against Total in France and there is speculation BP could be the next major UK target. One activist source said: ‘I am pretty sure BP will be targeted by someone sooner or later, based on this verdict.’ 

Mark Van Baal, founder of the activist shareholder group Follow This, said: ‘Young people in their 20s are saying, ‘I need this money 50 years from now and I don’t want it invested in companies…who leave me with a world that is devastated by climate change.’ 

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