The Urgenda climate case against the Dutch Government
Together with 900 citizens the Urgenda Foundation filed the Climate Case against the Dutch Government. On 24 June 2015 Urgenda won a lawsuit against the Dutch State, forcing it to take more measures against climate change.
DESPITE PRESSURE FROM PARLIAMENT, THE DUTCH GOVERNMENT REFUSES TO PULL APPEAL IN LANDMARK CLIMATE CASE
Dutch government to appeal in groundbreaking climate case
The Dutch government today announced its intention to appeal against the verdict of the district court in The Hague in the Dutch Climate Case last June.
“We have full confidence in the outcome of the appeal” Marjan Minnesma, director of Urgenda reacted. In its letter to parliament the government also announced it will start taking measures to reach the target that was ordered by to court, pending the appeal. In its verdict the District court of The Hague ordered the Dutch government to reduce its emissions by a minimum of 25% by 2020 compared to 1990. The Netherlands are currently on a path towards 17% in 2020.
Marjan Minnesma :“The government knows 25% is not nearly enough if you consider the enormity of the dangers that climate change poses to us. Much more is needed, so we hope that politicians in the Netherlands will take their responsibility and make a true effort to speed up the transition towards a 100% sustainable economy. We have been waiting for political leadership on this topic for a very long time.”
In its letter announcing the appeal the government mentions a number of legal questions as the reason for appealing the judgement.
Marjan Minnesma: “The Dutch government has the opportunity to put these legal questions directly to the Supreme Court instead of first going through the Court of Appeal. That would save a lot of time and money. If it is legal clarity that de government wants, going straight to the Supreme Court is the fastest way to get there.”
The government officially published its announcement (Dutch) here. Dutch parliament will be hearing experts and debating the case later this month before the government takes a final decision on the appeal. The deadline for appealing is 24 September 2015.
URGENDA WINS THE CASE FOR BETTER DUTCH CLIMATE POLICIES
The Urgenda Foundation has filed a lawsuit against the Dutch Government for not taking sufficient measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause dangerous climate change. The Urgenda Climate Case is the first case in Europe in which citizens attempt to hold a state responsible for its potentially devastating inaction. It is also the first case in the world in which human rights are used as a legal basis to protect citizens against climate change.
The Climate Case was initiated in November 2012 with a letter to the government asking for action and a call for ‘crowd pleading’ in which Dutch citizens could support the case and join as co-plaintiffs. A year later on 20 November 2013, Urgenda together with 900 co-plaintiffs filed the case against the Dutch government. On 14 April 2015, the district court in The Hague heared the arguments of the parties. The verdict will be reached June 24th.
On 30 March 2015 the Oslo Principles on Global Climate Change Obligations were launced, formulated by an international group of eminent jurists, including High Court judges, law professors and advocates from countries such as Brazil, China, India, the US and the Netherlands. The Oslo principles hold that regardless of the existence of international agreements, governments already have a legal obligation to avert the harmful effects of climate change, based on existing international human rights law, environmental law and tort law.
The Oslo group endorses the arguments that Urgenda brings forward in its climate case and also provides support to initiatives in other countries to involve the courts in their efforts to contain climate change.
On April 8, Dutch daily newspaper Trouw published an extensive interview with Jaap Spier, Advocate-General to the Dutch Supreme Court, concerning the Oslo Principles and the Urgenda climate case. According to Spier, ‘Courts can force countries to adopt effective climate policies. Court cases are perhaps the only way to break through the political apathy about climate change.’
From the article: Does a judge need to be an activist in order to make a statement about climate change? “No”, says Spier, “it is just a matter of applying existing law, although undoubtedly not all judges will be open to this. Judges with the courage to give a ruling on this will one day be applauded, whereas those who don’t will eventually be tarred and feathered.”
Following the Dutch example, a group of well-known Belgians started legal proceedings against their government. For more information on that case, go to: www.klimaatzaak.be/en
The urgency of taking action
The recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have once again confirmed that urgent action is required to avert a dangerous warming of our planet. Governments including the Dutch state are taking small steps, but these continue to fall far short of what is necessary. If emissions are not drastically reduced before 2020, the second half of the 21st century will be one of danger, extreme weather events, quickly diminishing ice caps, and shortage of water and food, which in turn can cause social unrest and violence. All this can be prevented if the right actions are taken.
The legal case against the Dutch State
In a letter to Urgenda the Dutch government acknowledged that its actions are insufficient to prevent dangerous climate change. Urgenda concludes that The Netherlands is therefore knowingly exposing its own citizens to dangerous situations, in which they and their children will suffer serious hardship. In legal terms, that is a wrongful act of the State. The Dutch Supreme Court has consistently upheld the principle that the government can be held legally accountable for not taking sufficient action to prevent foreseeable harm. Urgenda argues that this is also the case with climate change. The Urgenda Foundation and its co-plaintiffs believe that preventing dangerous climate change is not only morally and politically the right thing to do, but also that it is a legal obligation that cannot be ignored.
In the climate case, Urgenda requests the court:
1.) To declare that global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius will lead to a violation of fundamental human rights worldwide.
2) To declare that the Dutch State is acting unlawfully by not contributing its proportional share to preventing a global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius.
3.) To order the Dutch State to drastically reduce Dutch CO2 emissions even before 2020 to the level that has been determined by scientists to be in line with less than 2 degrees Celsius of global warming, that is, to reduce Dutch emissions by 40% by 2020 below 1990 levels.
- 2 April 2014 – Dutch State answered the summons of Urgenda by submitting its defence to the court
- 10 September 2014 – Urgenda submitted its reply to the defence of the Dutch State
- 19 January 2015 – The Dutch State submitted the rejoinder to the reply of Urgenda
- 14 April 2015 – Hearing before the district court in The Hague
- 24 June 2015 – Verdict of the district court of The Hague.
The idea for a Dutch climate case came from the book Revolution Justified of the Dutch lawyer Roger Cox, who is also one of the lawyers representing Urgenda. His call to involve the judiciary in averting the climate crisis was published in the Guardian on 14 November 2012. In March 2014 Roger Cox gave a presentation on the climate case at a TEDx conference: it is available here. In May 2014 Roger Cox gave a lecture at the legal faculty of the University of Oslo, Norway: it is available here.
What happened outside of the courtroom
Roger Cox making the case for states liability for climate change