Top Dutch bank ING is now in the legal crosshairs of the group

The Hague (AFP) - The Dutch climate activists who won an historic court battle against Shell now have a new target – top Dutch bank ING.

Milieudefensie, the Dutch branch of Friends of the Earth, said Friday they have started legal proceedings against ING, and warned that other top companies could be next.

“ING is the biggest bank in the Netherlands and finances polluting companies with more money than all other Dutch banks,” the group said in a press release.

The group’s director Donald Pols said ING is responsible for more emissions than Sweden, with 99 percent of them stemming from loans and working with highly polluting companies.

It called on ING to slash these CO2 emissions by 48 percent by 2030 compared to 2019 levels.

“The bank finances oil and gas companies, deforestation and heavy industry, all of which add to the climate crisis,” he said.

ING said in a statement to AFP it would “of course respond in court if necessary.”

The added that it is “confident that we take impactful action to fight climate change and sustainability is part of our overall strategic direction.”

ING pointed to measures announced in December to phase out financing upstream oil and gas activities by 2040.

The bank also indicated a pledge to triple new financing of renewable power generation to 7.5 billion euros ($8.2 billion) annually by 2025, up from 2.5 billion euros in 2022.

“ING is taking baby steps in the right direction… nevertheless, Friends of the Earth Netherlands believes this policy is still highly inadequate,” the activists said.

- ‘Historic’ verdict -

In 2021, Milieudefensie won a major Dutch court battle against Shell, when judges ordered the oil giant to slash carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030, saying the company was contributing to the “dire” effects of clte change.

At the time, campaigners hailed as “historic” the verdict that for the first time made a company align its policy with the 2015 Paris climate accords.

“What applies to Shell, applies to all large corporations and therefore also to ING: they have a duty to reduce their own contribution to dangerous climate change,” said the group.

Last year, the group put 28 firms on notice, challenging them to produce plans to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 45 percent by 2030 compared to 2019 levels.

The warning targeted major companies including supermarket group Ahold Delhaize, paint manufacturer AkzoNobel, BP, chemical firm Dow, ExxonMobil, airline KLM, consumer goods firm Unilever and Tata Steel.

The case against ING does not let these other companies “off the hook”, Milieudefensie cautioned.

“Whether you are drilling for oil yourself, or have paid for the drill, in both cases you are contributing to and bear responsibility for the climate crisis we are currently experiencing,” said the group.

Milieudefensie has launched a fundraising effort to finance the new lawsuit, saying it needed 300,000 euros ($327,000). It has raised just over 40 percent of the target, according to its website.

Pols said the group had been in talks with the bank since 1990 but the time had come to take action.

“We’ve asked nicely enough times.”