Dutch Court Orders Dutch Government to Increase Its Climate Change Targets
In what has been characterized as a “landmark” or “milestone” or “game-changer,” and in what is certainly a legally unprecedented action, a Dutch court in The Hague ordered the Dutch government to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels to protect low-lying Netherlands and its people from the impacts of climate change.
Currently the Dutch government has established a target of only a 17% reduction in GHGs. Despite its use of the image of windmills to define, in part, its landscape and culture, the Netherlands has been slow to adopt to clean, renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, and continues to rely heavily on gas. Only 4.5% of Dutch energy consumption came from renewables in 2013, whereas the EU average is15%.
The case was filed on behalf of about 900 Dutch citizens by Urgenda [‘urgent’ ‘agenda’], a non-governmental organization.
As summarized by the court from the bench, the court found that the issue was whether the plaintiffs, represented by Urgenda, can force the state to limit the emissions of GHGs, particularly CO2, further than the intentions of the government. The answer is, Yes it can.
Reaching that conclusion the court analysed three questions: How serious is the problem with climate change – it reviewed the scientific evidence, much of which was agreed by the state; Does the state have a duty of care to protect Urgenda and citizens from the risks of climate change; Does the issue belong in a court of law, or is it a political question that can be answered only by the state. The court found climate change to be most serious, it found the state does have a duty of care towards its citizens with regard to climate change, and the issue can be resolved by a court not just by the executive.
In its reasoning, the court also rejected the state’s argument that it is not solely responsible for climate change and no country can stop climate change by itself. The court found that each country must do what is necessary and it is necessary for the Netherlands to do more, specifically reduce GHGs by 25%. The court also found that this requirement was not prohibitively expensive.
The decision may be appealed by the government, and could be reversed on appeal. Nevertheless, one of the critical contributions of the decision is that it will embolden other courts to take the same kind of progressive, indeed courageous, action and provide others with both a legal and moral precedent. Already similar actions are being planned in Belgium and the Philippines.
Just think of the possibilities that might be unleashed. Perhaps we will find a court somewhere, someday ruling that a developed country, say the United Kingdom, is legally responsible, at least in demonstrable part, for the existing climate change impacts, e.g., rising seas, affecting one of its former colonies in the developing world. A logical, legal extension would be for the court to rule that the UK has to contribute to the costs of that developing country defending itself against rising seas.
Once that floodgate opens, rising water will threaten the developed countries as well as the developing countries.
Urgenda, “Urgenda wins the case for better Dutch climate policies” (24 June 2015). www.urgenda.nl/en/ With English translation of press releases and video of court verdict (with English subtitles).
Court’s Press Release:“State ordered to further limit greenhouse gas emissions” www.rechtspraak.nl/Organisatie/Rechtbanken/Den-Haag/Nieuws/Pages/State-ordered-to-further-limit-greenhouse-gas-emissions.aspx
Transcript of Court’s ruling: uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/inziendocument?id=ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2015:7196
Video of Court’s ruling from the bench, with English subtitles; www.urgenda.nl/en/
“Climate case against the Dutch government now available in English,” urgenda (15 May 2015), with background papers. www.urgenda.nl/en/News.php
Samantha Page, “A Dutch Court Just Did The Unthinkable On Carbon Emissions,” climateprogress (24 June 2015). thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/06/24/3673402/dutch-court-rules-country-must-act-on-global-warming/
Mike Corder, “Landmark Dutch ruling: Cut emissions to protect citizens,” Associated Press (24 June 2015). customwire.ap.org/dynamic/stories/E/EU_NETHERLANDS_CLIMATE_CASE?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT