A Dutch court on Wednesday ordered Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) to significantly deepen planned greenhouse gas emission cuts, in a landmark ruling that could pave the way for legal action against energy firms around the world.
Shell immediately said it will appeal the court ruling, which comes amid rising pressure from investors, activists and governments on energy companies to shift away from fossil fuels and rapidly ramp up investments in renewable energy.
At a court room in The Hague, judge Larisa Alwin read out a ruling which ordered Shell to reduce its planet warming carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2019 levels.
"The court orders Royal Dutch Shell, by means of its corporate policy, to reduce its C02 emissions by 45% by 2030 with respect to the level of 2019 for the Shell group and the suppliers and customers of the group," Alwin said.
Earlier this year Shell set out one of the sector's most ambitious climate strategies. It has a target to cut the carbon intensity of its products by at least 6% by 2023, by 20% by 2030, by 45% by 2035 and by 100% by 2050 from 2016 levels.
But the court said that Shell's climate policy was "not concrete and is full of conditions...that's not enough."
"The conclusion of the court is therefore that Shell is in danger of violating its obligation to reduce. And the court will therefore issue an order upon RDS," the judge said.
The court ordered Shell to reduce its absolute levels of carbon emissions, while Shell's intensity-based targets could allow the company to grow its output in theory.
Shell said in response that "urgent action is needed on climate change" and that it has therefore set out its plan to become a net-zero emissions energy company by 2050.
Shares in Shell's London-traded stock were down 0.7% at 1427 GMT, compared with 0.8% gains in the broader European energy sector (.SXEP).
The lawsuit, which was filed by seven groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Netherlands, marks a first in which environmentalists have turned to the courts to try to force a major energy firm to change strategy.
It was filed in April 2019 on behalf of more than 17,000 Dutch citizens who say Shell is threatening human rights as it continues to invest billions in the production of fossil fuels.
"This is a huge win, for us and for anyone affected by climate change", Friends of the Earth Netherlands director Donald Pols told Reuters.
"It is historic, it is the first time a court has decided that a major polluter has to cut its emissions," Pols added after the verdict, which Shell can appeal.
Michael Burger, head of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School said that "there is no question that this is a significant development in global climate litigation, and it could reverberate through courtrooms around the world."
Burger is also a lawyer representing local governments in the United States in climate change lawsuits, including against Shell.
The company, which is the world's top oil and gas trader, has said its carbon emissions peaked in 2018, while its oil output peaked in 2019 and was set to drop by 1% to 2% per year.
However, the Anglo-Dutch company's spending will remain tilted towards oil and gas in the near future.
A rapid reduction in its carbon dioxide emissions would effectively force it to quickly move away from oil and gas.
Climate change affects human health; however, there have been no large-scale, systematic efforts to quantify the heat-related human health impacts that have already occurred due to climate change. Here, we use empirical data from 732 locations in 43 countries to estimate the mortality burdens associated with the additional heat exposure that has resulted from recent human-induced warming, during the period 1991–2018. Across all study countries, we find that 37.0% (range 20.5–76.3%) of warm-season heat-related deaths can be attributed to anthropogenic climate change and that increased mortality is evident on every continent. Burdens varied geographically but were of the order of dozens to hundreds of deaths per year in many locations. Our findings support the urgent need for more ambitious mitigation and adaptation strategies to minimize the public health impacts of climate change.
MIAMI — Three years ago, not long after Hurricane Irma left parts of Miami underwater, the federal government embarked on a study to find a way to protect the vulnerable South Florida coast from deadly and destructive storm surge.
Already, no one likes the answer.
Build a wall, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed in its first draft of the study, now under review. Six miles of it, in fact, mostly inland, running parallel to the coast through neighborhoods — except for a one-mile stretch right on Biscayne Bay, past the gleaming sky-rises of Brickell, the city’s financial district.
The dramatic, $6 billion proposal remains tentative and at least five years off. But the startling suggestion of a massive sea wall up to 20 feet high cutting across beautiful Biscayne Bay was enough to jolt some Miamians to attention: The hard choices that will be necessary to deal with the city’s many environmental challenges are here, and few people want to face them.
“You need to have a conversation about, culturally, what are our priorities?” said Benjamin Kirtman, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Miami. “Where do we want to invest? Where does it make sense?”
“Those are what I refer to as generational questions,” he added. “And there is a tremendous amount of reluctance to enter into that discussion.”
In Miami, the U.S. metropolitan area that is perhaps most exposed to sea-level rise, the problem is not climate change denialism. Not when hurricane season, which begins this week, returns each year with more intense and frequent storms. Not when finding flood insurance has become increasingly difficult and unaffordable. Not when the nights stay so hot that leaving the house with a sweater to fend off the evening chill has become a thing of the past.
The trouble is that the magnitude of the interconnected obstacles the region faces can feel overwhelming, and none of the possible solutions is cheap, easy or pretty.
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The climate crisis is causing a widespread fall in oxygen levels in lakes across the world, suffocating wildlife and threatening drinking water supplies.
Falling levels of oxygen in oceans had already been identified, but new research shows that the decline in lakes has been between three and nine times faster in the past 40 years. Scientists found oxygen levels had fallen by 19% in deep waters and 5% at the surface.
Rising temperatures driven by global heating is the main cause, because warmer water cannot hold as much oxygen. Furthermore, rising summer heat leaves the top layer of lakes hotter and less dense than the waters below, meaning mixing is reduced and oxygen supply to the depths falls.
Oxygen levels have increased at the surface of some lakes. But this is most likely due to higher temperatures driving algal blooms, which can also produce dangerous toxins. Cutting emissions to tackle the climate crisis is vital, the scientists said, as well as cutting the use of farm fertiliser and urban sewage pollution that also damages lakes.
“All complex life depends on oxygen and so, when oxygen levels drop, you really decrease the habitat for many different species.” said Prof Kevin Rose, of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in the US, who was part of the research team.
“This study proves that the problem is even more severe in fresh waters [than in oceans], threatening our drinking water supplies and the delicate balance that enables complex freshwater ecosystems to thrive,” said Curt Breneman, RPI’s dean of science.
Freshwater habitats are rich in fish, insects, birds and animals, and are important for food and recreation for humans. But they have already suffered great damage, with average wildlife populations having fallen by 84% since 1970. In addition to global heating and pollution, the causes include overuse of water for farming.
The study, published in the journal Nature, analysed 45,000 dissolved oxygen and temperature profiles collected from nearly 400 lakes worldwide. Most records started in about 1980, though one went back to 1941.
Most of the lakes were in temperate zones, particularly in Europe and the US, but there were a few records from higher latitudes, nearer the poles, and for tropical lakes in Africa. In both cases, oxygen was falling as in the other lakes.
In lakes where oxygen levels have fallen to almost zero, phosphorus can be drawn out of sediments, providing an essential nutrient for bacteria. These can proliferate and produce the powerful greenhouse gas methane, driving further heating.
Oxygen levels in surface waters were increasing in about a fifth of the lakes studied, almost all of which were prone to pollution. This is an indicator of widespread increases in algal blooms, said Rose. “Without taxonomic data, we can’t say that definitively, but nothing else we’re aware of can explain this pattern.”
Global temperatures are still rising, pushing lake oxygen levels ever lower, so just keeping the status quo requires action to clean up freshwater bodies. Rose said a positive example was Oneida Lake in New York state, where a clean-up led to better water clarity, which in turn allowed more photosynthesis from oxygen-producing algae.
“The new study provides a much-needed global overview of what happens in the limited freshwater stores of the planet – their health is a prime concern,” said Prof Hans-Otto Poertner, of the Alfred-Wegener-Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, who was not part of the team. Lakes are isolated and small compared with oceans, in which global currents can still provide oxygen to deeper waters, he said.
“Climate change, together with [agricultural pollution], threatens vulnerable freshwater systems, adding to the urgency to strongly cut emissions,” Poertner said.
Nearly three-fourths of the U.S. West is grappling with the most severe drought in the recorded history of the U.S. Drought Monitor, as hot and arid conditions are set to exacerbate the threat of wildfires and water supply shortages this summer.
Parts of California, Nevada and Washington experienced sweltering triple-digit temperatures over the past week amid the drought, according to the National Weather Service, with states releasing excessive-heat warnings and heat advisories in some areas.
Conditions this spring are much worse than a year ago. In fact, nearly half of the continental U.S. is in a moderate to exceptional drought, marking the most significant spring drought in the country since 2013, according to scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The U.S. Drought Monitor, a map produced by a team of academic and government scientists, started roughly two decades ago. It is updated every Thursday to display the location and intensity of drought across the country.
In California, which frequently experiences drought conditions and massive wildfires, state reservoirs are 50% lower than they should be at this time of year, an Associated Press report says, which could trigger hydroelectric power plants to shut down during the worst part of wildfire season.
The state had its worst wildfire season on record last year in terms of total acres burned, fueled in part by prolonged heat waves, drought and lightening strikes made worse by climate change.
During a meeting with the head of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection last week in Sacramento, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for a record $2 billion wildfire preparedness budget and an expansion of its fleet of aircraft to combat the fires.
California will also have its largest firefighting force in history working on the ground during peak fire season.
Alisha Herring, a communications representative for Cal Fire, told CNBC the department has completed dozens of fuel reduction projects, including controlled burns, to reduce the threat of fires this season.
“As we move deeper into the summer months, conditions will only dry out further, increasing the fire danger,” she said. “These dry conditions make it much easier for a wildfire to ignite and to burn hotter and faster than we would normally see this time of year.”
The world’s climate and nature crises cannot be solved unless they are tackled together, scientists have warned in a major report.
Global temperatures are already nearing levels deemed unsafe by climate scientists, while 77 per cent of the world’s land and 87 per cent of its oceans have been degraded by humans – putting more species at risk of extinction than at any other time in human history, according to the analysis.
To address the escalating crises, the world must end deforestation, rewild vast stretches of the land and sea and rapidly switch to plant-based diets, says the report, which is published by more than 50 of the world’s leading climate and nature scientists.
However, countries must ensure that the solutions they pursue address both crises effectively or risk committing environmental “epic fails”, the scientists said. They pointed to tree-planting with just a single species as an example of a solution that does little to tackle the decline of nature or the climate crisis in the long term.
“Even in areas where tree-planting is the right thing to do, [single-species] plantation forests are a disaster,” Professor Camille Parmesan, a report author and ecologist at Plymouth University, told a press briefing held on Wednesday.
“For a forest to be able to be resilient to [the climate crisis], you need it to be diverse. Plantation forests are extremely vulnerable... because every tree is the same species. One drought or heatwave can cause the loss of the whole forest.”
The peer-reviewed report is the first collaboration between the world’s leading climate science authority, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the leading authority on biodiversity decline, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
Together, the scientific groups warn that the world is currently not doing enough to recognise that the climate and nature crises are inextricably linked.
For example, the way that humans impact the land through deforestation, agriculture and development is the chief driver of biodiversity loss and also a major cause of the climate crisis, with land use accounting for around a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, each problem can exacerbate the other, the scientists said. For example, rapidly rising temperatures threaten the survival of many species, while the loss of wildlife from ecosystems can affect their ability to store carbon.
Despite the links, the climate and nature crises are often treated as separate issues in the political arena, the report notes.
World leaders discuss each problem at separate UN conferences, with the next summit on biodiversity loss taking place in Kunming, China, in October and the next meeting on the climate crisis taking place in Glasgow in November.
Many of the solutions currently being considered by leaders also fail to take into account how both crises are interlinked, the report adds.
For example, the burning of crops to produce energy is often touted as a greener alternative to fossil fuels. However, if not carefully managed, the crops needed to produce “bioenergy” could take up large swathes of land, posing a large threat to biodiversity and food production, the scientists said.
They added that there were environmental solutions on offer that could provide a “win-win” for both the climate and nature crises.
In the UK, this includes the protection and restoration of the country’s carbon-rich peatlands, explained Professor Pete Smith, report author and chair of plant and soil science at the University of Aberdeen.
He said: “The big-ticket option in the UK is peatlands, particularly in the north and west of the country where we have large areas of peatlands – over 80 per cent of which are in relatively poor condition, they’ve been drained for grazing or otherwise mismanaged.
“They emit huge amounts of carbon. A degraded peatland can be emitting over 30 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year. To put that in context, an average family car emits about four tonnes of CO2 a year.
“Switching off that big source of emissions is something that is really important and really good for biodiversity.”
Dr Will Pearse, an ecologist at Imperial College London who was not involved in the report, described the findings as “clear, authoritative and informative”.
“Only by treating climate, biodiversity and human society as coupled systems can we address the current catastrophes,” he said.
“Simple ‘quick fixes’, be they [tree plantations] or technological innovations, are shown to be ineffective and sometimes actively harmful when implemented without such a holistic approach.”
Prof Mark Maslin, a climate scientist at University College London, said the report put forward, “undeniable science that we can no longer treat human impacts on land, in oceans and in the atmosphere as separate”.
He said: “The Earth’s biodiversity and the functioning of many ecosystems are directly threatened by rapid climate change.
“However, to stabilise climate change we need to enhance and support the Earth’s ecosystem through massive rewilding and reforestation.”
Dr Nathalie Pettorelli, a senior research fellow at the Zoological Society of London, says that the report provides a “welcome first step” towards “a more joined-up approach to tackle the biodiversity and climate crises”.
The G7 meeting in Cornwall this weekend, as well as the Kunming and Glasgow conferences, “present clear policy windows for developing coherent policy frameworks that align targets across the nexus of biodiversity and climate change”, she said.