Greenpeace to potentially Shell out millions in damages following climate protests
Alice Gregory – 20 November 2023
It seems like 2023 has been a year of protests, with strikes, the Public Order Act and Just Stop Oil all hitting the headlines. In recent weeks, Shell announced its plans to sue Greenpeace for $2.1 million in damages following a protest against the energy company earlier this year. At the end of January, Greenpeace activists boarded a moving oil vessel near the Canary Islands, which was headed to the Penguins oil and gas field near the Shetland Islands. Four protestors made it aboard using ropes and held signs saying ‘Stop Drilling. Start Paying.’ This protest lasted for 13 days, and Greenpeace has said it was a response to Shell’s ‘obscene’ profits. Specifically, the company raked in $39.9 billion in 2022, which is more than double their $19.29 billion profits from the year before. As a result, Greenpeace has explained that they organised such action to hold Shell accountable for damage to the climate.
However, Shell has since argued that it had to pay to increase the safety and security of its vessel, on top of the legal costs of securing two injunctions (i.e., a legal order stopping people from carrying out a specific act) following this protest. This most recent lawsuit aims to block all protests at sea or in port at any of Shell’s infrastructure across the globe. The company has stated that safety is the main reason behind this legal action, but has added that they have the right to reclaim costs incurred as a result of the protests. Greenpeace, meanwhile, has labelled Shell’s lawsuit as ‘aggressive’ and an act of ‘intimidation,’ claiming that the true cause is to quash those who campaign against the environmental consequences of Shell’s business pursuits.
Regardless of the reason behind Shell’s decision to take legal action, both Greenpeace and Shell will likely incur significant legal fees if it goes to trial – not to mention the millions at stake in damages. (Though it should also be noted that Greenpeace is a nonprofit and Shell brought in almost $40 billion last year.) The cheapest option would be to avoid litigation, so negotiations between the companies are already underway. Reuters has reported that Shell offered to drop the claim to $1.4 million if Greenpeace agrees to stop protesting at Shell infrastructure. However, Greenpeace has said that it will only do so if Shell agrees to cut its emissions by 45% by 2030, an order from a Dutch court in 2021 which has since been appealed by Shell. So, while Shell has evidently faced its fair share of legal battles, we can only wait to find out what the next steps will be in its negotiations with Greenpeace.
If you’re interested: Ethics, Investment and ESG: Church of England's fossil fuel holdings under scrutiny