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Dutch government taken to court over insufficient climate change action

by Futures Centre, Apr 27
2 minutes read

An update to this signal has been submitted here: Dutch government ordered to cut carbon emissions in landmark ruling


Dutch environmental group The Urgenda Foundation has filed a class action lawsuit against the government on behalf of 886 Dutch citizens for taking insufficient measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. This landmark case is the first in the world to use tort law and human rights law as a basis for pursuing climate action, according to Urgenda. It is the first European case in which citizens attempt to hold a state responsible for inaction – climate change cases have been attempted in the United States without success.

Case proceedings were initiated in November 2012, following which Dutch citizens were recruited as co-plaintiffs. The first public hearings took place on 14 April before the district court in The Hague, and a verdict will be reached on 24 June. In the case, Urgenda requests the court to declare that global warming of more than 2°C will lead to a violation of fundamental human rights worldwide and that the Dutch State is acting unlawfully by not contributing its part to prevent global warming. They want the government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020, relative to 1990 levels. 

The issues of climate change and rising sea levels are very important for the Netherlands, where nearly 25% of the country’s land lies and 60% of its GDP is produced below sea-level. Despite this, according to the International Energy Agency, they rank poorly compared to the rest of the European Union for renewable energy sources, sourcing only 4% of electricity from renewables, and last year opened three new coal-fired power plants.

Urgenda claim that: “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.” They believe that preventing dangerous climate change goes beyond a moral responsibility to a legal obligation. Marjan Minnesma, Urgenda Co-Founder and Director, admitted to RTCC that 10 years ago the organisation would not have attempted this action, but believes that it is now possible for a ruling to be acheived due to increased climate change awareness.

Image credit: Urgenda / Chantal Bekker


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