From Fortune Climate Change Litigation Enters a New Era as Court Rules That Emissions Reduction Is a Human Right Excerpts in italics with my bolds.
The Supreme Court of the Netherlands in The Hague on Friday delivered what may be the most unequivocal legal statement so far that governments are responsible for acting to address climate change.
In a closely-watched case that could have wide ramifications for litigation worldwide, the court ruled that the Dutch government must reduce emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020 compared to 1990 levels, going beyond the EU-wide objective of 20%.
The ruling denied the Dutch government’s appeal of an earlier ruling in favor of the Urgenda Foundation, an environmental group that first filed the case in 2013 on behalf of a group of Dutch citizens who wanted the government to move faster to reduce emissions. The government has argued that a legal obligation to meet a specific target would limit its flexibility in determining how to reduce emissions.
The Supreme Court said on Friday that it based its judgement on the UN Climate Convention and the obligations of the state under the European Convention on Human Rights.
“There is a great deal of consensus in science and the international community about the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent by developed countries by the end of 2020,” the court said in its summary, translated from the Dutch. “[The Netherlands] has not explained why a lower reduction can be considered justified and can still lead in time to the final goal accepted by the State.”
In a brief summary read in English, the judge presiding over the court noted that European Human Rights Convention Articles 2 and 8—the right to life and the right to respect for private and family life—indicate that action on climate change falls under the umbrella of human rights protection.
“These articles entail the positive obligation for the Dutch state to take reasonable and appropriate measures to protect the residents of the Netherlands from the serious risk of a dangerous climate change, that would threaten the lives and wellbeing of many people in the Netherlands,” he said.
That obligation to apply the provisions of the Convention trumped the state’s argument that politicians—not the courts—are responsible for determining emissions reductions, the Court said.
“This could have significant consequences for governments’ freedom to make climate policy and in other areas,” the government said. The statement noted that the state was still committed to lowering emissions by 25% by 2020.
In 2018, emissions in the country were down 14.5% from 1990 levels, according to Statistics Netherlands.
The Urgenda case has gotten the furthest of all international litigation regarding climate change, according to Michael Gerrard, founder and director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. Together with the law firm Arnold & Porter, the Center runs a database to track climate change litigation both internationally and in the U.S.
“There have been 1,442 climate change lawsuits worldwide. This is the strongest decision ever,” said Gerrard. “The Dutch Supreme Court has upheld the first court order anywhere directing a country to slash its greenhouse gas emissions. This decision may inspire even more cases in other countries.”
That was a sentiment that was echoed by Markus Gehring, an expert in sustainable development law at the University of Cambridge.
“The beauty is you only need one successful case,” he said. “There is [now] an expectation that climate litigation will multiply.”
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