Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation
About us Campus Fryslân
Header image Campus Fryslân blog

Pedalling to The Hague for the Climate Change Lawsuit

Date:17 December 2020
The bike ride strike
The bike ride strike

As a student, there are several things I can do for the climate. Eating plant-based, buying second-hand, traveling by train and bicycle. All these little things matter but sometimes I am overwhelmed with a feeling of helplessness. It is system change that will keep the planet below the 1.5ºC of climate change and for that we need all countries and big companies to seriously invest in green solutions. This is why, two weeks ago, on an early Saturday morning, we gathered in the city center of Leeuwarden. Ready for a 3-day bike trip from Leeuwarden to The Hague. The goal? Raising awareness and money for the climate change lawsuit against Shell. 

Our Royal Dutch Shell. The oil and gas company with the famous yellow-red logo that is visible on gas stations all over the world. This company has been responsible for about 1/50th of global carbon emissions since the industrial revolution. It is polluting twice as much as the whole of the Netherlands and invests only 5% in sustainable energy, although 56% of press releases are about sustainability. In 1989, Shell decided to add two meters to the legs of a planned drilling platform on sea in order to account for the rising sea level due to climate change. Green washing? Hypocritical? Selfish eh… Shellfish? Whatever we call it, these efforts will certainly not be sufficient to meet the Paris agreement. Instead, their activities are dangerous for nature and people, violating human rights while they can take alternative measures. 

For these reasons, Milieudefensie together with 6 organisations and 17.379 individuals sued Shell, demanding them to change course and cut emissions with at least 45% by 2030. It is an important lawsuit as it can also inspire other organisations to pressure the big polluters in their country. However, it is an expensive one too. Several donations and fundraising activities had already helped to make the lawsuit possible. The initial goal of this bike trip was to raise an additional €500 by finding sponsors. The organisers didn’t know that in the end, this would become much more! 

Carrying the Earth

It was a cold, foggy morning and I was just hoping that cycling would keep me warm. A great variety of activists joined the tour: enthusiastic tour cyclists, students with one-gear granny bikes, seniors on both road and electric bikes, and even a couple on a tandem! Every day the group would change with new people joining and others leaving for home, but the group remained about the same size: 15-25 people. Most surprisingly for me was the huge Earth that was tied to a luggage trailer. One of the organisers of the trip meant to take this large, wind-catching ball with him to The Hague! Although it slowed us down, we soon realised the Earth was an important part of our group because it drew attention from passers-by as well as the media. Determined to bring it all the way, we took turns in carrying the Earth. What a great symbolic effort. 

On our first day to Zwolle, the sun didn’t manage to show itself through the fog and I gave up on keeping my hands and feet warm. The route was quite direct so we passed several Shell stations which served as perfect places for a break. Besides getting some hot tea, coffee or a snack from the fully-electric car that was following us, we would take a photo or video where we held up our hands covered in dirty oil (aka apple syrup), sang a climate chant or shouted ‘What do we want? Climate Justice!’. The videos and photos were broadly shared on social media by some actively involved non-cyclists, team work!  

The next day it was still cold but the sunny weather and stunning route made up for that. With wind from the back we arrived in Almere earlier than planned! However, the last day was the worst: rainy and we were uncertain about the route, resulting in us taking an unnecessary detour. Nevertheless, we kept our moods high. Getting to know the other cycling activists and hearing about their motivation for this trip was giving me a lot of positive energy. Besides that, the delicious vegan meal and warm shower at the end of the day made us completely forget the discomfort. We would go to bed with sleepy eyes and tired legs.  

On Tuesday morning, just before the start of the climate case, we cycled the last few kilometers to court. With our eyes still focussed on the Earth that was struggling to resist the gusts of wind caused by the high buildings in The Hague, we were received by a group of journalists. After some photos, we handed over our cheque of €2690 to the director of Milieudefensie. The amount of money had increased immensely during the weekend, exceeding all our expectations! Then, we wished the team good luck and took the train back to Leeuwarden. 

When I spotted our group on several news reports that evening, I felt fulfilled. Happy to be able to contribute to this important case. Surprised by what you can achieve with only a small group of people. Full of hope that Milieudefensie is going to win the case. And motivated to keep on fighting for climate justice.

The lawsuit is spread over 4 sessions on 1, 3, 15 and 17 december. You can follow the livestream here: The documents with argumentation from Milieudefensie are also available for the public.

By Ellis Mourits, third-year student Global Responsibility & Leadership & member of the Green Office CF