Dutch court says government must cut CO2 emissions

In a sweeping victory for Dutch environmental activists that could have global repercussions, a court ordered the government yesterday to cut the Netherland’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 per cent by 2020.

The ruling by The Hague district court could lay the foundations for similar cases around the world, said the director of Urgenda, the organisation that took the government to court on behalf of 900 Dutch citizens.

The plaintiffs argued – and the court agreed – that the government has a legal obligation to protect its people against looming dangers, including the effects of climate change on the Netherlands, a low-lying country, much of which is below sea level and vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by global warming. They argued that unless rapid action was taken, the next half of this century would see extreme weather, shrinking ice caps and shortages of food and water.

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“This is a great victory – the judge said exactly what we wanted and had the courage and wisdom to say to the government ‘you have a duty of care toward your citizens,’” said Marjan Minnesma, director of Urgenda, the group that filed the case.

Climate activists in the packed courtroom clapped and cheered as presiding Judge Hans Hofhuis read the ruling.

“A courageous judge. This is fantastic,” said Sharona Ceha, another Urgenda worker. “This is for my children and grandchildren.”

Jasper Teulings from Greenpeace called it a “landmark case”.

“It shifts the whole debate. Other cases are pending in Belgium, the Philippines. This is the start of a wave of climate litigation”, he said.

Dutch government lawyers swiftly left the courtroom after the judgment and could not immediately be reached for comment.

The court said, based on current Dutch climate policy, the Netherlands will cut its emissions by only 17 per cent by 2020, compared with benchmark 1990 levels.

“The state must do more to avert the imminent danger caused by climate change, also in view of its duty of care to protect and improve the living environment,” the court ruled.

The Dutch government can appeal to a higher court.

It remains unclear how the court can enforce its ruling. It has the power to impose fines, but never uses such powers against the government and Urgenda did not request this.