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.)
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.
“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.”
“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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