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climate case explained

To facilitate others in initiating similar cases against their own government, the Urgenda Foundation has made its work available in English. On this page you can find translations of all Urgenda's legal documentation, including the summons, statement of reply, pleadings, verdict and a legal summary.

Summary

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.

Timeline

  • 12 November 2012 - Letter to the government
  • 20 November 2013 - Summons
  • 2 April 2014 - Dutch State answers the summons of Urgenda, submits defense to the court
  • 10 September 2014 - Urgenda submits its statement of reply to the Dutch State
  • 19 January 2015 - Dutch State submits the rejoinder to the reply of Urgenda
  • 14 April 2015 - Hearing before the District Court of The Hague
  • 24 June 2015 - Verdict of the District Court of The Hague
  • 1 September 2015 - Dutch State announces decision to appeal the verdict
  • 9 April 2016 - Dutch State submits grounds for appeal

The summons

The summons marked the start of the legal proceedings at the district court in The Hague. Urgenda laid out the facts on climate change and why emissions need to be drastically reduced to avert great and potentially catastrophic damage. It provided the grounds upon which it claims the Dutch state is legally obligated to take action to reduce Dutch greenhouse gas emissions. An English version of this document can be found here.

Defense of the State

In its defense, the State acknowledged all the facts on climate change, including the potentially devastating consequences if no action is taken. The State even implicitly acknowledged that it is not doing its share to avoid dangerous climate change.

The State did however reject the notion that it can be legally obligated to act. In short, the State argues that there is no legal norm on the basis of which it is legally bound to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the State argues that whether and to what extent emissions should be reduced is a political question in which the courts should not intervene.

Statement of reply

In its statement of reply, the Urgenda Foundation strengthens the legal argumentation that was laid out in the summons and reacts to the defense of the State.

After the statement of reply was filed, the State submitted one final written rebuttal before the hearing.

hearing and verdict

On the 14th of April 2015, oral arguments were presented at the district court in The Hague. The pleadings of Urgenda can be found here and here.

The district court of The Hague reached its verdict on the 24th of June 2015. The district court of The Hague published an English version of its verdict, as well as an English language press release.

In addition to the translated documents provided by the court, Urgenda has provided video footage of the court session in which the coart presented its verdict, including English subtitles.

Click here for more information on the Dutch Climate Case including background reference materials, downloads and press coverage.