A court has ordered Royal Dutch Shell to accelerate its strategy for the energy transition by making steeper and quicker cuts to greenhouse gas emissions than it had planned. The landmark ruling could spur legal cases against other oil and gas companies, as well as other big corporate polluters.

What was the ruling?

The judge in the district court in The Hague ruled on Wednesday that Shell must cut its net carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 against 2019 levels on an absolute basis, in line with a global push to prevent temperatures rising more than 1.5C above preindustrial levels. The judge said the company had violated a duty of care obligation regarding the human rights of those affected by climate change.

The target is more aggressive than Shell’s own plan, which is to cut the carbon intensity of the fossil fuel products it makes and sells by 20 per cent by the end of the decade from a 2016 baseline, as part of a net-zero emissions goal by 2050.

Carbon intensity is a measurement of carbon per megajoule of energy sold, rather than an absolute measure of total carbon emitted, which is what the court has ordered and activists have long sought.

Why does it matter?

Previous climate cases have largely been focused on liability suits, forcing oil companies to pay damages for past behaviour. But Wednesday’s first-of-a-kind ruling demands a change in Shell’s strategy for the future, setting a precedent not just for energy companies but all big greenhouse gas emitters. It could herald a wave of this new style of litigation