Climate Litigation


The UK’s High Court (the Court) has denied the world’s first climate-related derivative action against a board of directors to hold them personally accountable over their alleged failure to properly prepare for the energy transition.   Background. On February 9, 2023, environmental law organization ClientEarth filed a derivative action, brought by shareholders on behalf of the company, seeking permission to bring a claim against Shell’s board of directors (the Board), alleging breaches of legal duties under the UK’s Companies Act 2006 (the Act). ClientEarth alleged that the Board was mismanaging material and foreseeable climate risks in breach of the Act and had failed to adopt and implement an energy transition strategy that aligns with the Paris Agreement. Specifically, ClientEarth alleged that the Board breached its duties under: s. 172 of the Act, which requires directors to act in a way that they consider will best promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members as a whole; and s. 174 of the Act, which requires directors to exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence in the discharge of their duties. ClientEarth had requested that the Board be required to adopt a strategy to manage climate risk in line with its duties under the Act, and in compliance with the 2021 Dutch Court judgment requiring Shell to reduce CO2 emissions of the Shell group by net 45% in 2030, compared to 2019 levels, through the Shell group’s corporate policy (see our earlier bulletin here).   Judgment. Mr Justice Trower of the UK High Court denied permission to ClientEarth to bring its climate-related derivative action against the Board in the UK. In dismissing the lawsuit, the judge determined that ClientEarth’s action sought to “impose specific obligations on the directors as to how the management of Shell’s business and affairs should be conducted, notwithstanding the well-established principle that it is for directors…

ClientEarth, an environmental advocacy organization active in climate litigation, together with Friends of the Earth and the Good Law Project, presented legal arguments before the UK High Court on June 8-9 in their challenge of the UK government’s net-zero by 2050 strategy. ClientEarth asserts that the UK government has not met its legal obligation under the Climate Change Act, which requires the government to set climate policies that satisfy the UK’s legally binding carbon budgets. ClientEarth argues that the UK is relying on unproven technologies instead of supporting opportunities for immediate impact, including recommendations for cutting emissions and reducing energy bills from the UK’s Climate Change Committee, such as increased insulation and low-carbon heating in buildings. ClientEarth notes that the UK’s current approach will require significant and drastic emissions reductions in the coming decades, with increased impacts on young people and future generations. Last month, ClientEarth, along with Dutch campaigners Fossielvrij Netherlands and Reclame Fossielvrij, delivered a letter to Dutch airline, KLM, stating their intention to file a legal claim if the demands set out in the letter are not met. The demands include calling for a ban on all fossil fuel advertising in the EU. ClientEarth intends for the ban to stop companies like KLM from misleading the public over what is needed to reduce emissions and the airline industry’s contribution to climate change. ClientEarth is targeting KLM’s ‘Fly Responsibly’ ad campaign and the airline’s offers for customers to purchase carbon offsets which will be used to fund reforestation projects or the purchase of biofuels to offset the emissions from their flight. ClientEarth states that such campaigns do little to reduce emissions and may instead undermine and delay urgent climate change action.