Netherlands Must Prevent Dangerous Climate Change, Dutch Top Court Rules
Photo by Patrick Hendry
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The Supreme Court of the Netherlands agreed with the lower courts’ order requiring the Dutch Government to reduce GHG emissions by a minimum of 25% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, in line with the UNFCCC and the Dutch State’s legal duties to protect the life and well-being of citizens in the Netherlands under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The ruling comes less than a week after the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid failed to deliver the ambitious outcome needed to address the climate crisis.

The Dutch highest court upheld the previous decisions in the ‘Urgenda Climate Case,’ a lawsuit originally brought by a Dutch environmental group Urgenda, on behalf of 886 citizens, against the Government. The court concluded that the Dutch Government has an obligation to urgently and significantly reduce emissions in accordance with its human rights obligations.

The Supreme Court of the Netherlands agreed with the lower courts’ order requiring the Dutch Government to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by a minimum of 25% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, a target more ambitious than the one the Dutch State has under EU law (a 20% reduction by 2020 compared to 1990 levels). The court based its judgment on the UNFCCC and on the Dutch State’s legal duties to protect the life and well-being of citizens in the Netherlands, in line with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Supreme Court found that, given the “large degree of consensus in the scientific and international community on the urgent need for developed countries to reduce GHG emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020,” the Dutch State “has not explained why a lower reduction would be justified and could still lead, on time, to the final target accepted by the Dutch State.”

The ruling provides a clear path forward for concerned individuals in Europe – and around the world – to undertake climate litigation in order to protect human rights.

The Court rejected the Dutch State’s claim that it is up to politicians to decide on the reduction of GHG emissions, highlighting the Dutch courts’ role to apply the provisions of the ECHR and to offer legal protection as an essential element of a democracy under the rule of law. This approach is different from the one taken by several courts in the US where the “political question doctrine” has repeatedly barred the judiciary from deciding on issues perceived as “patently political” and “transcendently legislative.”

The international significance of the decision, described by many as “historic,” has been confirmed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who “welcomed the Court’s acceptance that human rights obligations are central to the response to … climate change.” “This landmark ruling provides a clear path forward for concerned individuals in Europe – and around the world – to undertake climate litigation in order to protect human rights,” Bachelet said.

The 20 December 2019 Supreme Court’s ruling is the final judgment in the Urgenda Climate Case. It comes less than a week after the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid failed to deliver the ambitious outcome needed to address the climate crisis, and less than a month after the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) confirmed that emissions reductions must be increased at least fivefold to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change. [Urgenda Press Release] [Dutch Supreme Court Press Release] [Explanation of the Case by Press Justice to the Supreme Court] [Urgenda Climate Case Webpage]


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