Climate Change

Shareholder rebellion and litigation: the climate future for energy firms, on Radio Davos 

Image: Zbynek Burival on Unsplash

Robin Pomeroy
Podcast Editor, World Economic Forum
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Climate Change?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Climate Change is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Climate Change

  • Shareholders voted for climate action at two US oil majors, and a Hague court ordered Royal Dutch Shell to cut emissions much faster.
  • On Radio Davos we analyse the significance of the events - that all happened on a single day - for the broader fight against climate change.
  • Former WTO chief judge James Bacchus says more litigation is likely, and countries should be proactive on agreeing trade and climate rules.

On May 26, 2021, there were three events that surprised the oil and gas industry:

A Dutch court ordered Royal Dutch Shell to cut its own CO2 emissions and those of its suppliers and customers by 45% by the end of 2030 from 2019 levels.

Shareholders in Chevron surprised its board by voting for a resolution that the company should cut its emissions.

And, at Exxon-Mobil, a small shareholder group convinced a majority of investors to put at least two of its nominees onto the board - with a view to being more pro-active on climate change strategy, something Forbes likened to a "new David" taking on "one of the biggest Goliaths ever"

To consider how significant these events will prove to be, Radio Davos spoke to James Bacchus, Adjunct scholar the the Cato Institute and Distinguished University Professor of Global Affairs and Director of the Center for Global Economic and Environmental Opportunity at the University of Central Florida.

Capital expenditures on new projects outside of core oil and gas supply by large companies, absolute and as share of total capex, 2015-2019
Image: IEA

As a former chief judge at the World Trade Organization WTO, he had plenty to say on the events of May 26, and on the likelihood of messy litigation at the WTO as countries consider policies to ensure the price of carbon emissions is embedded into traded goods.

"The Hague court has ruled for the first time that a company has a corporate duty of care to prevent and mitigate the risks of the harms it causes from greenhouse gas emissions," Bacchus said. "This is a striking decision that will probably lead to a flood of new cases, in Europe especially, but also worldwide."

On the likely clashes at the WTO, he said: "We are going to see confusion and litigation in the WTO as not only the EU but other WTO Members begin to impose carbon border adjustment measures."

Blogs by James Bacchus:

When two global agendas collide: How the EU's climate change mechanism could fall afoul of international trade rules on the European Union's plans for a ‘carbon border adjustment mechanism’ (CBAM).

Mentioned in this podcast:

Study on climate litigation in Nature Climate Change.

"Urgenda" case, in which the Dutch High Court in 2019 ordered the government to step up its fight against climate change, as it said a lack of action was putting Dutch citizens in danger.

Find all our podcasts here.

Join the World Economic Forum Podcast Club on Facebook.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Climate ChangeTrade and Investment
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Green job vacancies are on the rise – but workers with green skills are in short supply

Andrea Willige

February 29, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum