15 April 2015
Dutch citizens take government to court for failure to prevent harmful effects of climate change
In a ‘landmark legal case’, nearly 900 Dutch citizens have filed a claim against the Dutch government for a failure to effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate climate change, and for the ‘co-creation’ a dangerous future world. The action is a case of ‘firsts’; it represents both the first attempt by European citizens to hold their government accountable for inefficient climate policies, and the first use of existing human rights law to found a claim in respect of climate change.
The action is being taken by Urgenda Foundation – a sustainability-focused organisation which began collecting support from Dutch citizens for the case in 2012. Legal advisor to the plaintiffs, Roger Cox explained; ‘what we are saying is that our government is co-creating a dangerous change in the world … we feel that there’s a shared responsibility for any country to do what is necessary in its own boundaries to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions as much as is needed’. The case follows on from an earlier ‘victory’ of the supporters in Oslo which launched the Oslo Principles on Global Climate Change Obligations holding that ‘governments have the legal obligation to prevent the harmful effects of climate change, regardless of any preexisting international agreements’.
Urgenda will request the court to compel the Dutch government to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by between 25 to 40 percent by 2020 – the reductions recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change if a global temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius is to be avoided. In support of their claim, Urgenda argues 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’. While the European Union has committed to this decrease by 2030, the Netherlands has been silent, stating that it intends instead to adopt any international agreement which arises from the Paris climate conferences later this year.
Similar movements have begun in other states; in Belgium, over 12,000 people pledged their support for a court case to hold the government to account for failing to act on climate change. In the United States, the Oregon-based nonprofit Our Children’s Trust launched an action led by young lawsuits against state and federal entities on similar grounds. Urgenda has stated they hope the Dutch case will inspire other countries’ citizens to hold their governments to account.