In an unprecedented, landmark case 886 Dutch citizens have successfully sued their government for “knowingly contributing” to global warming and for failing to take measures to prevent an increase of 2°C in the Earth’s average surface temperature. In the ruling, a court at the Hague ordered the Dutch government to adopt a goal of cutting carbon emissions by at least 25 percent in the next five years, declaring the previously stated goal of cutting emissions by 14-17 percent compared to 1990 levels is unlawful given the threat posed by climate change.
The lawsuit, which was brought by sustainability foundation Urgenda is the first of its kind, and there is speculation that it may cause a ripple effect in other nations, with similar actions being brought against the governments of Belgium and the Philippines. The Hague’s ruling is based upon human rights and Tort law—the universal duty to refrain from doing harm.
In their ruling, the judges stated: “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.” Indeed, prior to this ruling, the only commitment from any state came in the form of those agreed by international treaties.
At present, the European Union has committed to reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030, but the Dutch government’s promises within that had remained somewhat lackluster. Indeed, Dutch news sources reported, via Think Progress, that “Urgenda claims that the Dutch government has acknowledged that its actions are “insufficient” to prevent the dangers associated with a warming world.”
Inhabitants of a low-lying country at particular risk of rising sea levels, the Dutch populous have reason to be concerned. Much of the nation’s power still comes from coal and gas, and they have fallen behind other European nations, most notably Germany, in terms of renewable energy implementation. This ruling puts pressure on the state to expedite plans to shutter coal plants and cease gas extraction, while increasing utility-scale renewable energy projects.
It is still possible that the Dutch government could appeal the high court ruling, but as Liberal opposition spokesperson Stientje Van Veldhoven told the Guardian: “The government has never ignored a court ruling like this one before, but there has never been a ruling like this before either.”
Meanwhile James Thornton, CEO of environmental law group ClientEarth hailed the ruling: “There are moments in history when only courts can address overwhelming problems. In the past it has been issues like discrimination. Climate change is our overwhelming problem and this court has addressed it. The Dutch court’s ruling should encourage courts around the world to tackle climate change now.”
Via The Guardian