Applicable law (Article 4 and 7 Rome II) in the Dutch Shell climate ruling. Not quite as momentous as the core message.

I have an article forthcoming on the application of Rome II’s Article 7, ‘environmental damage’ rule. Last week’s widely reported first instance ruling in the Dutch Shell climate case will of course now feature.

I reported on application of A7 in Begum v Maran. There I submit, the Court of Appeal engaged without sufficient depth with the Article. It held against its application. Xandra Kramer and Ekaterina Pannebakker then alerted us to the use of Article 7 in last week’s momentous Milieudefensie v Shell (umpteen) ruling [Dutch version here, English version here], in which Shell by a first instance judge has been ordered to reduce its CO2 emissions. In that ruling, too, the judges leave a lot of issues on Rome II underanalysed. The conclusion  however goes in the opposite direction: the court held A7 is engaged and leads to Dutch law as the lex loci delicti commissi (Handlungsort or ldc).

I have taken the Dutch version of the judgment as the basis for the analysis for the English version is a touch under par when it comes to the finer detail. The Dutch version it has to be said is not entirely clear either on the conflict of laws analysis.

Firstly, Milieudefensie argue that A7 is engaged, and it suggests it opts for Dutch law given the choice left to it by that Article. Whether it does so as lex loci damni (Erfolgort or ld) or lex loci delicti commissi is not specified. It is reported by the courts that in subsidiary fashion Milieudefensie argue that per A4(1)’s general rule, Dutch law is the lex causae: that has to be Erfolgort.  (Lest the court inaccurately reported parties’ submissions here and the argument made under A4 focused on Article 4(3)’s displacement rule) [4.3.1].

The judges further report [4.3.2] that parties were in agreement that climate change, whether dangerous or otherwise, due to CO2 emissions constitutes ‘environmental damage’ in the sense of A7 Rome II (and the judges agree) and that they were in disagreement on the locus delicti commissi. Milieudefensie argue that Shell’s holding policy viz climate change and emissions, dictated from its corporate home of The Netherlands, is that Handlungsort. Shell argue that the place of the actual emissions are the Handlungsorts (plural), hence a Mozaik of applicable laws. (This nota bene has interesting applications in competition law, as I suggest here).

Then follows a rather sloppy reference to Jan von Hein’s note bene excellent review of Article 7 in Calliess; distinguishing of the arguments made by Shell with reference to ia product liability cases; and eventually, with reference to ia the cluster effect of emissions (‘every contribution towards a reduction of CO2 emissions may be of importance’ [4.3.5]) and the exceptional, policy driven nature of A7, the conclusion [4.3.6] that the holding policy is an independent cause of the CO2 emissions and hence imminent climate damage and obiter [4.3.7] that A4(1) would have led to the same conclusion.

The ruling will of course be appealed. It would be good to get the application of Article 7 right, seeing as environmental law is a core part of strategic and public interest litigation.


EU Private International Law, 3rd. ed. 2021, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.3 (4.54 ff).