Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden said his company will “rise to the challenge” of a landmark court ruling last month, in which the oil major was ordered to cut its emissions footprint faster and more comprehensively than previously intended.

While expressing his disagreement with the court’s decision and confirming an upcoming appeal against the verdict, the head of the Anglo-Dutch energy giant said Shell would nevertheless speed up its plans for shifting towards a lower-carbon operating model.

“For Shell, this ruling does not mean a change, but rather an acceleration of our strategy – we will seek ways to reduce emissions even further in a way that remains purposeful and profitable,” van Beurden wrote in a LinkedIn post. “That is likely to mean taking some bold but measured steps over the coming years.”

At the end of May, Judge Larisa Alwin, sitting in the District Court of The Hague, Netherlands, ruled against Shell in a lawsuit brought by the Dutch wing of campaign group Friends of the Earth, which argued the company had a human rights obligation to make a more comprehensive reduction to its emissions.

It was the first time an oil company has been held legally accountable for its contribution to climate change, and raises the prospect of similar litigation against producers in the future.

She ordered the firm to lower its net global greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030, compared to 2019 levels – a significantly deeper cut than the 20% reduction in emissions intensity Shell had targeted over the same period.

The Shell chief executive said his company had been “singled out” by the court ruling on emissions liability.

The judgement on 26 May coincided with high-profile boardroom defeats over climate issues for Exxon and Chevron on the other side of the Atlantic, on a day celebrated by environmental campaigners in their efforts to get major fossil producers to more urgently embrace the energy transition.


Shell CEO says oil and gas products will be sold ‘for a long time to come’, despite emissions ruling

Shell had already announced an ambition to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century, and outlined a strategy for how it intends to get there. Its previously-stated emissions milestones were for a 20% reduction in the carbon intensity of its products by 2030, 45% by 2035 and 100% by 2050 – all from a baseline of 2016 levels.

That blueprint won the support of a majority of Shell’s shareholders when it was put to a vote at the company’s AGM in April, despite mounting external pressure that has more recently included the International Energy Agency’s call for an immediate end to approvals for new upstream projects.

Oil and gas producers are increasingly being urged to set targets that deliver an “absolute” emissions reduction, rather than simply lowering the carbon intensity of their operations. Absolute reductions imply an overall reduction in fossil fuel production, while intensity targets leave open the option to raise output.

But van Beurden, like many of his executive peers in the industry, remains bullish about the role producers still have to play in supplying the world’s energy needs – even if Shell has recently indicated its oil production peaked in 2019 and is expected to decline 2% each year moving forwards.

“For a long time to come, we expect to continue providing energy in the form of oil and gas products both to meet customer demand, and to maintain a financially strong company,” he wrote.

“Imagine Shell decided to stop selling petrol and diesel today. This would certainly cut Shell’s carbon emissions. But it would not help the world one bit. Demand for fuel would not change. People would fill up their cars and delivery trucks at other service stations.”