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29th Mar 2020

Landmark ruling says Dutch government must do more on climate

A Dutch court on Wednesday (24 June) ordered the government of the Netherlands to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in what has been called a "milestone" verdict.

The Dutch state has to ensure that by 2020, emissions in the Netherlands are at least 25 percent lower compared to 1990, the court ruled.

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  • The government of Mark Rutte (l) has to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Photo: spitsnieuws.nl)

It said insufficient action to protect its citizens against climate change is an act of tort.

“The State has to do more to avert the threatening danger caused by climate change, also given its obligation to care for the protection and improvement of the environment.”

It is the first time that a court has ordered a government to increase its action against climate change, and to set specific targets.

The court based its argument on what is deemed necessary by climate scientists, rather than by what has been legally agreed.

“Based on current government policy the Netherlands will achieve a 17 percent reduction at most. That is below the norm of 25 to 40 percent which in climate science and international climate policy is deemed necessary for industrialized countries.”

The court argued that it “does not enter the terrain of politics” with its verdict. It said it is able to give the order to the state because it would be a tort - a civil wrong - if the government failed to reduce emissions by the percentage that is required according to climate science.

The case was brought by a group of concerned citizens, called Urgenda (from “urgent” and “agenda”).

Urgenda had asked for the court to order a 40 percent reduction, but the court said “restraint is appropriate” because the court should respect the freedom of the government to determine its policies.

Milestone

“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”, Marjan Minnesma, one of the 886 plaintiffs said in a press release.

Environmentalist organisation Climate Action Network Europe said the verdict was “a milestone in the history of climate legislation”.

“We hope this kind of legal action will be replicated in Europe and around the world, pushing governments who are dragging their feet on climate action to scale up their efforts”, it said in a statement.

The verdict gives hope to citizen groups elsewhere in Europe. A similar case is underway in Belgium.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court in the UK ordered the government to do more to reduce air pollution, but that was based on targets legally agreed at EU level.

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