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.
The 2015 Urgenda Climate Case against the Dutch Government was the first in the world in which citizens held their government accountable for contributing to dangerous climate change. On 24 June 2015, the District Court of The Hague ruled the government must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020 (compared to 1990 levels). The ruling required the government to immediately take more effective action on climate change.
The case, which was brought on behalf of 886 Dutch citizens, made climate change a major political and social issue in the Netherlands and transformed domestic climate change policy. It inspired climate change cases in Belgium, New Zealand, Ireland, the UK, Switzerland and the US.
In September 2015, despite calls from leading scientists, lawyers, citizens, companies and the 886 co-plaintiffs for it to accept the decision, the Dutch government decided to appeal the judgment. It made this decision even though it is taking steps to meet the target set by the Court. The appeal will be heard at the Hague Court of Appeal on 28 May 2018.
Thursday, 2 November 2017 – A New Zealand student who took the Government to court over its climate emissions targets has welcomed a landmark judgment released today, which held that climate change presents significant global risks and that the Government is legally accountable for its actions to address climate change. The case is the third in the world in which courts have found that governments should do more to protect their citizens from climate change.
In September 2015, Sarah Thomson, then a 24year-old law student, took the Government’s Climate Change Minister to court over its emissions reduction targets. She stated these were unambitious and failed to reflect scientific consensus on climate change. The case was inspired by the ground-breaking Dutch climate change case, in which a court in The Hague ordered the Dutch government to increase its emission reduction targets.
In today’s judgment, the court in New Zealand found that the previous Minister for Climate Change, Tim Grosser, acted unlawfully by failing to review New Zealand’s climate change targets under the Climate Change Response Act, after publication of an updated UN report on climate change (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report).
The court refrained from making an order against the new Government, elected last week, because of the announcement that it will set a more ambitious climate change target for 2050.
Sarah Thomson has welcomed the judgement which puts the onus on the new Minister of Climate Change to go back to the drawing board.
“The new Government’s net zero carbon ambitions for 2050 are great, but time is not on our side. What we really need now is rapid action – we need to know when we’re going to change the 2030 target and how we’re going to get there,” she says.
“Now is the time for the Government to act. We need to put tangible steps in place, including a far more ambitious 2030 target, to transform into an emissions-free country in the next 30 years.
“This means aligning our target with the best climate science, so we become a world leader on climate action.
“The ball is in the new Government’s court.”
Dennis van Berkel, legal counsel to the Urgenda Foundation, which was behind the Dutch case in 2015 stated, “This is a big victory for all those groups around the world that want to hold their governments accountable for insufficient climate action. The judgment sends another clear message that government actions on climate change will have to withstand the scrutiny of the courts.”
“As in the Netherlands, the New Zealand court decided that climate change policy is not solely a political issue and no country can hide behind the fact that it is only a small contributor to global emissions. All governments need to act, and they need to act fast.”
The decision is the latest example of courts stepping up to tackle climate change. A few months after the Dutch case was decided in 2015, a Pakistani court ruled that the national government was violating it fundamental rights by not taking sufficient measures to protect citizens against the impacts of climate chance.In 2016, a US federal court found that a group of 21 young people had the right to sue the US federal government for its insufficient climate action, and held that ‘a right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.’ Similar cases have been filled in countries around the world, including Belgium, Ireland, Norway, India and Switzerland.
Despite calls from top scientists, lawyers, citizens, companies and the almost 900 co-plaintiffs, the Dutch government declined to pull the appeal against the historic verdict in the Dutch climate case.
“To appeal the outcome of this case only weeks before the start of the climate summit in Paris shows that the Dutch government is still not treating this issue with the urgency it so desperately needs.” Marjan Minnesma, director of Urgenda and initiator to the climate case. “We have full confidence in the outcome of the appeal.” Read the full press release here.
The Hague, 1 September 2015 – 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.
The Hague, 24 June 2015 – Urgenda and nine hundred co-plaintiffs were victorious in the climate case today, forcing the Dutch government to adopt more stringent climate policies. The district court of The Hague has granted the plaintiffs claims, and the government is now required to take more effective climate action to reduce the Netherlands considerable share in global emissions. This is the first time that a judge has legally required a State to take precautions against climate change. This verdict will provide support to all the other climate cases around the world.
“All the plaintiffs are overjoyed by the result. This makes it crystal clear that climate change is a huge problem that needs to be dealt with much more effectively, and that states can no longer afford inaction. States are meant to protect their citizens, and if politicians will not do this of their own accord, then the courts are there to help,” says Urgenda director Marjan Minnesma, who in 2013 initiated this case against the Dutch State with a team of lawyers and nine hundred co-plaintiffs. “It’s all up to the State now. Luckily, sustainable solutions are ripe for the picking.”
There was enormous support from the public for the court case. Hundreds of people came to The Hague to listen to the hearing and many more watched via livestream. When the judges read aloud the verdict, the audience erupted in joy and more than a few tears were shed. We managed to catch some of this elation in the video below, and have also provided English subtitles for the full reading of the verdict.
In addition, you can see the full version of the judge reading out the verdict below (in Dutch with English subtitles).
The day of the hearing, 14 April 2015, was also an exciting day. The video below gives a short overview of the arguments presented in court and the widespread (international) media coverage. In addition, while everyone else was at the court house, a ten year old reporter went to hear what members of parlement had to say about it.
credit Urgenda / Chantal Bekker