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23rd Apr 2021

Belgian authorities sued over 'inadequate' green targets

  • All the Belgian government's climate targets so far are non-binding (Photo: Jeanne Menjoulet)

A Belgian environmental NGO is taking the Belgian, Flemish, Brussels and Walloon governments to court for breaching their climate obligations - arguing that inadequate climate policy constitutes a violation of standard of care, and human and children's rights.

The oral hearings before the initial court in Brussels started on Tuesday (16 March) and will last nine days.

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In 2015, the NGO, Klimaatzaak [Climate Case], filed a claim with the court challenging the "inadequate" climate policies of the Belgian government - a move supported by some 62,000 citizens who were calling for more ambitious climate policies.

The case initially got held up in court over a language dispute, which was solved in early 2018.

"We cannot keep saying that the [green] transition is not feasible. We have a very strong case today," one of the founders of Klimaatzaak, Francesca Vanthielen, told Het Belang van Limburg newspaper.

As in the Urgenda case in the Netherlands, the plaintiffs demand that the governments reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions by at least 42 percent by 2025 and by at least 55 percent by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels) - with zero net-emissions in 2050.

"This demand is a translation into the Belgian context of the climate science insights on what is needed to prevent dangerous global warming exceeding 1.5 degrees," they argue.

According to an assessment of the European Commission, Belgium will fail to meet the 2030 target, which was then still a 35 percent emission cut - although it is set to be increased.

Meanwhile, all climate targets that the government has committed to so far are, in fact, non-binding under Belgian law.

After a continuous decline from 2004 to 2014, emissions in Belgium have been relatively stable.

Additionally, the claimants are seeking a penalty payment of €1m for every month that the authorities delay enforcing the judgment.

Last weekend, activists protested in several cities and towns across the country to draw attention to the court case initiated by Klimaatzaak.

In Brussels, a flashmob broke into dance on Mont des Arts, while hundreds gathered in Ghent to held a minute of silence for the climate.

"In these exceptional times we never expected so many people would embark upon the difficult procedure currently required in order to stage a protest," says coordinator Sarah Tak in a statement from the group Gents MilieuFront, which is supporting the case.

In December 2019, the Dutch climate organisation Urgenda won a similar case, which led to an ambitious package of proposals to cut emissions.

After a seven-year legal battle, the Dutch government was forced to reduce national emissions by at least 25 percent (compared to 1990) by the end of 2020.

That landmark case set high standards on climate litigation in European courts, inspiring similar cases across the bloc.

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