This is HUGE.— Greenpeace NZ (@GreenpeaceNZ) December 22, 2019
All laggard governments — including NZ — are now on notice: act now, or see you in court. https://t.co/evNtZzZDeV
The Supreme Court of the Netherlands ruled Friday that the government must take urgent action on climate change to protect the fundamental rights of its people.
This decision came in a landmark case begun by the Dutch environmental group Urgenda in 2013, the first in the world to test whether citizens could use human rights law to force their governments to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
International human rights law obligates the Netherlands to reduce emissions, the court ruled, “because of the risk of a dangerous climate change that can also seriously affect the residents of the Netherlands in their right to life and well-being.”
Friday’s ruling could have an impact far beyond the Netherlands. The Dutch court based its decision in part on the European Convention on Human Rights, a treaty that is binding in 47 states including Russia and Turkey. That could allow citizens of those countries to use the Dutch decision to argue that European law is on their side in cases against their own governments.
Environmental lawyers also believe that a future case similar to Urgenda’s will eventually reach the top court created to enforce the Convention, the European Court of Human Rights, which has legal authority over every state that’s signed onto the treaty. When that happens, the Urgenda ruling will be a key precedent.
The Urgenda case has already had a global impact. At least a dozen similar cases have been filed in other countries in the past six years, including one in the United States still making its way through the courts. A few of these suits have produced significant victories. Judges in Pakistan and Colombia, for example, have ruled governments have an obligation to take climate action in order to protect their citizens’ fundamental rights.
Other cases in progress are detailed here.
In the judgement the Netherlands government is ordered to reduce GHG emissions by 25% from 1990 levels by the end of 2020. The government had been working to a 20% reduction, but by the end of 2018 levels had only dropped 15%.
By comparison the NZ government’s targets are,
From an analysis by a Netherlands’ law firm,
The Supreme Court referred to the 2007 IPPC report which concluded that all developed countries will have to decrease their greenhouse gas emissions by 25% to 40% by 2020 to limit global warming to a 2ºC increase. The Supreme Court concluded that, considering this internationally accepted objective, the State had not sufficiently explained how a 20% decrease of emissions by 2020 (in the EU context) would be reasonable. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held that there is a broad consensus in the international community and climate science that if mitigating measures are delayed, it will become more complex and expensive to reach climate mitigation objectives and that there will be a larger risk of a ‘tipping point’ (drastic changes in climate).
Urgenda co-founder Marjan Minnesma wrote in Nature last week about the decade she spent taking the Netherlands government to court. She ended with this,
To provide a road map for change, Urgenda published a plan on 24 June — the fourth birthday of the first verdict (see go.nature.com/345d4zr; in Dutch). It included more than 700 organizations, including paper manufacturers, farmers, local sustainable-energy co-operatives and large environmental organizations. It set out 40 measures for reducing greenhouse gases by 25% from 1990 levels by the end of 2020. These included driving at 100 instead of 130 kilometres per hour, raising water levels in nature reserves and energy-saving options for the health and industrial sectors. The foundation later added another ten measures.
So there are now 50 ways for the government of the Netherlands to make up for its failure to protect its citizens from warming of more than 1.5 °C, as the judges of the Supreme Court decreed on 20 December that it must. The 700 partners are poised to help, once the government delivers the money and support that are needed.