Published on June 24th, 2015 | by Zachary Shahan


Dutch Class Action Suit Forces Netherlands To Cut Global Warming Emissions Faster

June 24th, 2015 by  

I was just in the Netherlands for a great cleantech tour, and there is a lot of good stuff happening in the land of flowers, bikes, and old-school windmills. However, the general consensus among the people I talked to was that not enough was happening to fight global warming. Of course, I was meeting with climate hawks, but still….

Well, that may as well be the consensus in the country as a whole, as the news today is the success of a class-action suit aimed at making the Dutch government cut global warming emissions faster than previously planned. (Previous CleanTechnica coverage here.)

Netherlands bicycling Netherlands bike parking solar EV charging netherlands Tesla Model S Brown Amsterdam 3

Three judges in The Hague gave the order to the government of the Netherlands to “ensure that the Dutch emissions in the year 2020 will be at least 25 percent lower than those in 1990.” Current Dutch policy to fight global warming — which is quite slim and disjointed — has the country on track for a 14 to 17 percent reduction by 2020. The court ruling noted that the norm for developed nations is in the realm of 25 to 40 percent, and only hitting 17 percent in the Netherlands would not only be embarrassing, but would be completely unacceptable.

It was actually just about 900 citizens who were signed on to the class action suit, filed by the Urgenda Foundation. But this ruling could go far beyond the Netherlands and its part in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. There is hope it could set an international precedent that inspires citizens of other nations to push for faster cuts as well.

“This historic ruling will have far reaching consequences in the Netherlands, Europe and the rest of the world,” said Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, a Dutch member of the European Parliament in the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

“This could be the first judicial warning shot to governments around the world,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics.

Notably, Belgian citizens are pursuing a very similar case in Belgium at the moment. Over 10,000 Belgian citizens have signed up to support that effort. Thanks to CleanTechnica reader Renaud Janson for informing us about that lesser-known case.

VW Golf GTE Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Netherlands Holland


“Before this judgement, the only legal obligations on states were those they agreed among themselves in international treaties,” said Dennis van Berkel, legal counsel for Urgenda.

“This is the first a time a court has determined that states have an independent legal obligation towards their citizens. That must inform the reduction commitments in Paris because if it doesn’t, they can expect pressure from courts in their own jurisdictions.”

Urgenda’s lawyers and others in the courthouse were clearly moved by the decision of the judges, according to reports. “As the verdict was being read out, I actually had tears in my eyes,” Roger Cox, Urgenda’s lead advocate, told the Guardian. “It was an emotional moment.”

electric smart car charging netherlands

“The state should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts,” the judges’ ruling said. “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.”

Unfortunately, the good news of the day doesn’t mean the legal fight is over in the Netherlands. In fact, analyst Emil Dimantchev says, “the court case will likely go through a long legal procedure that could last years.” In other words, the Dutch government can appeal the decision, and then it would be back to the courts for who knows how long. That would follow the 2½ years that this has already gone on.

Still, the news is good, and the momentum strong. “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.”

All images by Zachary Shahan or Marika Shahan (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

  • NicholB

    The state now decided to postpone a decision on appeal till a debate in parliament, scheduled for after the summer holidays. The appeal is clearly not automatic, but will be a political decision.

  • NicholB

    One of the two Urgenda lawyers told me he knew the ruling would be interesting when he heard the day before that it would be translated into english and published simultaneously with the dutch original. This is not at all the usual procedure. This was a strong hint to him that the judges thought their ruling was important, also outside the Netherlands. So he started the day with mildly positive expectations. But it turned out to be this surprising near total victory.

    Here’s the english ruling: If you’re interested in the arguments that convinced the judges, this is the place to look.

  • JamesWimberley

    Astonishing, though welcome. I will be very surprised if this ruling holds up on appeal. Emissions targets should be determined by the democratic political process. What I don’t understand is why the conscientious and usually progressive Dutch elected a “what, me worry?” government.

  • Peter Waegemans

    Absolutely great news and as a Belgian I hope our case also succeeds. Stating that you’re a small and crowded country doesn’t mean you can go about buying emission rights elsewhere .
    we have a transportation oriented economy and the most popular kind of car is a… Diesel!
    Next thing we should sue them for is the insanely low standard of renewable energy they focus on by 2050.

  • ToddFlach

    Does this mean the ROAD CCS project on the coal pp in the port of Rotterdam will finally get a positive Final Investment Decision to get it built and running?

  • Co&

    Hi Zachary. When you are in the country, I have a tip for you: try to arrange a visit the salt-water “Blue” electricity experiment on the afsluitdijk. I don’t think this innovation had much attention internationally.

    • Larmion

      Harlingen has another unit running since 2005, long before the Afsluitdijk experiment.

      Either way, it’s not that interesting a concept. The theoretical potential in the Netherlands is about 3GW, and that’s only if you make absurd assumptions (no membrane fouling, perfect efficiency, pre-heated water etc).

  • hans

    I hope this case will finally force the Dutch government to set up an effective renewable energy policy instead of the window dressing that has been going on for the last decades.

  • Steve Grinwis

    After deep, and serious thought, I think the key concern is: “WHY CAN’T I GET THAT COLOR OF BLUEO N MY ELECTRIC SMART??!”

    Totally looks badass.

    • LOL 😀 Haha.

      And yeah, I’m a fan. 😀 I have about a dozen more photos of these Smart cars if you want to drool over them. 😀

  • Ivor O’Connor

    The Netherlands seems to be the new super cool place. The Silicon Valley of this century. Where all the vibrant creative energy is at.

    • Ronald Brakels

      It’s amazing what you can achieve once you send all your crazy people to Australia. (In both countries.)

      • Ivor O’Connor

        Guess I don’t know enough to understand that comment.

        • Fokko

          It’s not you Ivor. 😉 I hope that instead of lagging behind this country will steam ahead from now on. Come visit us, it is a nice place to live.

        • eveee

          This is what he is referring to IMO,

          “The British used colonial North America as a penal colony through a system of indentured servitude. Merchants would transport the convicts and auctioned them off to (for example) plantation owners upon arrival in the colonies. It is estimated that some 50,000 British convicts were sent to colonial America, representing perhaps one-quarter of all British emigrants during the 18th century. The State of Georgia for example was first founded by James Edward Oglethorpe by using penal prisoners taken largely from debtors’ prison, creating a “Debtor’s Colony”. However, even though this largely failed, the idea that the state began as a penal has stayed both in popular history, and local lore.[1] The British also would often ship Irish and Scots to the Americas whenever rebellions took place in Ireland or Scotland, and they would be treated similar to the convicts, except that this also included women and children.

          When that avenue closed in the 1780s after the American Revolution, Britain began using parts of what is now known as Australia as penal settlements. Australian penal colonies included Norfolk Island, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), Queensland and New South Wales. Advocates of Irish Home Rule or of Trade Unionism (the Tolpuddle Martyrs) sometimes received sentences of deportation to these Australian colonies.[citation needed]. Without the allocation of the available convict labor to farmers, to pastoral squatters, and to Government projects such as roadbuilding, colonisation of Australia may not have been possible,”

          • Ivor O’Connor

            Thanks Eveee. I’m still so confused. The UK sent their best people to Australia and America. How does this fit in with the Netherlands? I see from the link the Netherlands used Drenthe as a penal colony, a province within the Netherlands, but no mention of Australia…

          • Hans

            After WW2 there was an emigration wave from the Netherlands to the US, Canada and Australia. However, the voluntary emigrants were mostly farmers who saw more chances abroad than at home, so not prisoners or crazy people.

        • Ronald Brakels

          Just a comment on the old family tree. Although perhaps hydra might be a better word to use than tree.

          • nakedChimp


      • Will E

        Ronald, you must be of dutch origin. Australian Dutch are double dutch.
        means double good. hehe.

    • There’s definitely a lot of cool stuff happening there. I could live there! 😀

      • Will E

        hello Zachary
        When you come to the Netherlands, make sure you come to Groningen. by far best place to be.
        but its true there is a change going on in the Netherlands. for the better.
        Maybe politics begin to see how much money can be made with Solar and Wind and EV transport.
        Love the pics.

        • Will E!!!!!! I didn’t realize you were in Groningen. My wife and I lived there for 5 months 8 years ago. We did visit Groningen on the trip. Would have loved to meet up!! But will hopefully be back before too long… Best small/medium city on earth, as far as I’m concerned. 😀

  • NicholB

    One of the people from Urgenda, who set up the law suit, told me that it is not so obvious that the government will appeal this decision. It would risk to split the coalition of right & left wing parties that is now ruling. This decision really forces the government to make a fresh decision on this.

    • That’s great to hear! Thanks.

    • Larmion

      And it would also be a waste of political capital, since the ruling can be safely ignored – there is no penalty for non-compliance. This is a symbolic victory, nothing more.

    • Ross

      When making their decision they should remember that they are the Netherlands and they have an above average interest in showing leadership.

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