The Dutch NGO that successfully sued Shell announces new climate case against fossil fuel financier ING, while the island of Bonaire files climate lawsuit against the Dutch state
The Netherlands has been a hotspot for climate litigation. In 2015 the Urgenda Foundation along with Dutch citizens won a historic verdict against the Dutch government, marking the first time in the world that a court ordered a government to take more stringent climate mitigation action. The Dutch Supreme Court upheld this ruling in 2019, setting a powerful example indicating that governments have a legal duty to respond more urgently and effectively to the climate crisis in line with their human rights obligations. In 2021 a Dutch court delivered a groundbreaking decision in a climate lawsuit against oil major Shell, implying that this legal duty extends also to (multinational) corporations. Next month a court is expected to issue a decision in a climate case alleging greenwashing by Dutch airline KLM. And so far this month, Dutch citizens and climate campaigners have launched two new legal challenges – one against the government, and one against the country’s largest bank.
On January 19, Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie) announced the initiation of legal action against the Dutch bank ING. In a “notice of liability” letter to ING’s board chair, the first step of litigation, Milieudefensie says the bank has breached its legal duty of care by failing to align its business with the objectives of the Paris Agreement, including by continuing to finance polluting companies that are driving dangerous levels of warming inconsistent with global climate action goals.
“ING continues to exacerbate the climate crisis,” Donald Pols, director of Milieudefensie, said at a press conference announcing the group’s plan to take the bank to court. He noted that ING “still partners with and funds companies that start new fossil fuel projects” and that ING has said it would stop funding new oil and gas projects only by 2040 – 15 years too late. According to the letter, ING has self-reported that its financed GHG emissions are 61 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent (in 2022), which is greater than the annual emissions of entire countries like Sweden or Cambodia. And in the years since the Paris Agreement entered into effect, ING has issued more than 83 billion Euros in bonds to the fossil fuel industry.
Given this financing going into climate destabilizing companies and activities, Pols says that ING “is the banker of the climate crisis.” His organization is demanding that the bank stop engaging with big polluters if they fail to demonstrate they have credible climate transition plans. Milieudefensie also demands that ING halve its own emissions by 2030 (at least 48% reduction in CO2 and 43% reduction in CO2-e) and ensure its climate plan is fully aligned with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to no more than 1.5 degrees C.
In an online statement responding to the announcement from Milieudefensie, ING defended its climate position, saying its financing of non-sustainable activities like fossil fuel projects is merely “a reflection of the current global economy.”
“We're confident that we take impactful action to fight climate change,” Arnaud Cohen Stuart, head of Business Ethics for ING, said in the statement. “We will of course respond in court if necessary.”
Milieudefensie has requested a response to its letter within eight weeks, and if the bank does not agree with the NGO’s demands, then the group will file a lawsuit in court. Milieudefensie Jong, the organization’s youth division, is also a claimant in the matter.
“I hope that just like in the Shell case, the scales of Lady Justice will be in favor of life, and not money,” Winnie Oussoren, chairman of Milieudefensie Jong, said during the press conference. Milieudefensie is the Dutch NGO that took Shell to court over climate change – and won. The District Court of the Hague ruled in 2021 that Shell must reduce its entire supply chain emissions (Scopes 1, 2, and 3) by at least 45 percent by 2030. Shell has appealed the verdict, and the appellate court is scheduled to hear the case this April.
Meanwhile, eight Dutch citizens from the Caribbean island of Bonaire along with Greenpeace Netherlands officially sued the Dutch state last week over climate. Bonaire, a low-lying island located about 80 kilometers off the coast of Venezuela, is a former Dutch colony that is now a special municipality of the Netherlands. The island is vulnerable to rising sea levels and is already experiencing severe flooding, extreme heat, and degradation of coral reefs, among other consequences of anthropogenic warming.
The Netherlands has not done enough to protect residents of Bonaire from these worsening climate impacts, the claimants say. By taking the Dutch government to court, they aim to compel the state to develop a concrete plan to help the island adapt and survive, and to ensure the Netherlands takes even more aggressive climate mitigation action than it has already committed to. The lawsuit requests the court to order the government to do its “fair share” to try to limit warming to no more than 1.5 degrees C, which entails zeroing out emissions by 2040 at the latest, 10 years earlier than currently planned. In the government failing to take these actions, the case alleges the government is violating its legal obligations under human rights law.
“It is the duty of the Dutch government to protect us all from the consequences of the climate crisis,” Andy Palmen, director of Greenpeace Netherlands, said in a press release. “Bonaire is being hit hard by rising sea levels, heat and the disappearance of coral. The government has a duty to limit global warming as much as possible and is now failing to do so.”
According to a Greenpeace-commissioned study by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU), a fifth of the island could be permanently submerged before the end of the century.
Greenpeace Netherlands initiated legal proceedings last year in May by sending a letter to the Dutch prime minister laying out the demands to protect Bonaire from further climate injustice. On January 11, Greenpeace delivered the court summons at the District Court of The Hague.