In a unique decision, the district court of The Hague has ordered the Dutch government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% in 2020 compared to 1990. Current ambitions of the Dutch government amount to a reduction of around 17%. The case was brought by Dutch NGO Urgenda and nine hundred co-plaintiffs.
This is the first time that a judge has ordered a State to take measures against climate change, says Urgenda. “This decision will provide support to all other climates case around the world.” In Norway and Belgium similar cases have been brought.
“All the plaintiffs are overjoyed by the result. This makes it crystal clear that climate change is a huge problem that needs to be dealt with much more effectively, and that states can no longer afford inaction. States are meant to protect their citizens, and if politicians will not do this of their own accord, then the courts are there to help,” says Marjan Minnesma of Urgenda, who in 2013 initiated this case against the Dutch State with a team of lawyers and nine hundred co-plaintiffs. “It’s all up to the State now. Luckily, sustainable solutions are ripe for the picking.”
“The verdict is a milestone in the history of climate legislation, because it is the first time that a government was ordered to raise its climate ambition by a court”, says Wendel Trio, Director of Climate Action Network Europe. “We hope this kind of legal action will be replicated in Europe and around the world, pushing governments who are dragging their feet on climate action to scale up their efforts. At the same time, the task specified by the ruling is not too challenging. The target should be much higher than 25% in order to be truly in line with what is needed to tackle climate change.”
According to Urgenda, “climate change measures are feasible and affordable. Denmark and Germany are already on course to cut 40% of their CO2 emissions by 2020.”
Not just Urgenda and its co-plaintiffs have been eagerly awaiting this verdict, notes Urgenda, “but so have UNFCCC negotiators, citizens in countries who have pending suits against their states (e.g. Belgium), or are currently preparing one (e.g. Norway). “Millions of people that are already suffering the consequences of climate change are hoping that we, the people that have caused the emissions and have the means to reduce them, will intervene while there is still time”, says Minnesma. “Those people can now, with our verdict in their hands, start their own climate cases. These lawsuits are supported by the Oslo Principles, which holds that states have the legal obligation to avert dangerous climate change.”
In a press release explaining the verdict, the court notes that “the State must do more to avert the imminent danger caused by climate change, also in view of its duty of care to protect and improve the living environment. The State is responsible for effectively controlling the Dutch emission levels. Moreover, the costs of the measures ordered by the court are not unacceptably high. Therefore, the State should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts. Any reduction of emissions contributes to the prevention of dangerous climate change and as a developed country the Netherlands should take the lead in this.”
According to the press release, “with this order, the court has not entered the domain of politics. The court must provide legal protection, also in cases against the government, while respecting the government’s scope for policymaking. For these reasons, the court should exercise restraint and has limited therefore the reduction order to 25%, the lower limit of the 25%-40% norm.”
The court decisions has raised some controversy in the Netherlands. Critics say that the Dutch government has not broken any rules or laws, so the ruling can only be construed as a political decision. It is not known yet whether the Dutch government will appeal the decision.