Fighting Climate Change Might Have Just Gotten Easier

Scientific American, by L. Delta Merner, Brenda Ekwurzel on July 1, 2021

A court in The Netherlands has ruled that Royal Dutch Shell must reduce its carbon emissions—and more.

In late May, a Dutch court brought new hope to addressing climate change by ruling that Royal Dutch Shell must cut carbon emissions from both its operations and the oil and gas products the company sells. Never before has a fossil fuel company been ordered to reduce its heat-trapping emissions to address climate change. From a legal, scientific and societal perspective, the case against Royal Dutch Shell leaves little doubt that individual companies can be held accountable for driving climate change.

Climate change is a global phenomenon. The scale is enormous, the impacts are severe, and for many the problem feels overwhelming. Thanks to meaningful advances in science, we can better understand climate change at a finer scale, even teasing out how individual fossil fuel companies have contributed to a specific climate event. An ability to isolate the contribution of climate change and connect this with economic data at the census block level is novel and yields remarkable results. A recent study found that the proportion of sea-level rise attributable to human-driven climate change in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut resulted in an additional $8 billion of damage when Sandy raged through the region in 2012.

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