Dutch climate case: a call for action to all governments


A landmark climate change lawsuit will be heard in a court in The Hague today, as an action brought by campaigners comes before three district judges. This is the first time in Europe that citizens have attempted to hold a state responsible for its inaction to tackle climate change. The 900 plus co-plaintiffs argue that by failing to enact sufficient measures to address greenhouse gas emissions, the Dutch government has contributed to dangerous climate change. It is also believed to be the first case in the world in which human rights are being used as a legal basis to protect citizens from climate change, and commentators believe they “will undoubtedly be put to the test in other countries before too long”. Dutch-NGO Urgenda, which is behind the action, started proceedings in 2012 with the support of climate scientist James Hansen, accusing the government of implementing weak clean energy targets. The case comes to court just weeks after a panel of eminent international judges and legal experts from countries including India, Brazil, the US and China released the Oslo Principles, holding that governments have an obligation to avert dangerous global warming, regardless of the existence of international agreements, based on existing international human rights law, environmental law and tort law. Urgenda’s goal is for the court to declare that a warming of more than 2DegC will lead to a violation of human rights worldwide and to order the Dutch State to cut emissions by up to 40 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020.


MT @Sustainable2050 Why @Urgenda can win its climate case, in court today: Examples of litigation for future generations


Key Points

  • All governments have a duty to act on climate change. The Dutch climate case comes just weeks after a panel of eminent jurists released the Oslo Principles, which – based on existing international human rights, environmental and tort laws – hold that all governments have an obligation to avert dangerous global warming, irrespective of the existence of international agreements. As countries from around the world prepare their 2030 climate action plans ahead of the UN climate talks in Paris this December, all eyes will be on how governments turn this obligation into real action.
  • Around the world, citizens are demanding that their governments listen. The Dutch climate case is the first time European citizens are attempting to legally hold a state responsible for its inaction. A similar attempt has also begun in Belgium, while in Oregon, US two teenagers filed a lawsuit against their state government for failing to keep their pledge to reduce emissions. Such cases offer yet more strength to the growing movement of citizens holding their governments to account. In the latest mass demonstration this weekend, over 25,000 Canadian took to the streets to demand climate action.




Tools & Resources

Key Quotes

  • “This climate case is the first court case in the world in which a state is held accountable in this way. When we win, we can finally put aside the political squabbling about whether we’ll do what is necessary to safeguard current and future generations from an overheating planet, and finally move on to the question how we’ll get there. Of course no single country can prevent climate change, but we claim that this does not relieve the state of its individual legal responsibility for its own emissions that contribute to climate change. There is enormous interest in our approach. On December 1, 2014, a climate case was initiated in Belgium following the example of our case.” – Marjan Minnesma, Urgenda director
  • “In this landmark case, Urgenda argues that the Dutch target is not adequate to prevent dangerous climate change and, as a result, poses a threat to the human rights of people and communities in the Netherlands.  Specifically, Urgenda claims that the Dutch government’s failure to take ambitious action threatens the rights to life and to private and family life, as established under international human rights law and applied by statute under Dutch law. This argument is well supported by law and science.  The international community has recognized that climate change is one of the greatest human rights challenges of our time, yet the individual and collective actions taken by countries such as the Netherlands do not reflect the sense of urgency that science dictates.  This is a critical moment–the Netherlands and countries around the world must be held to account to protect the right to a safe climate in the name of youth and future generations.” – Alyssa Johl, Senior Attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law
  • “Courts can force countries to adopt effective climate policies. Court cases are perhaps the only way to break through the political apathy about climate change[…] it is just a matter of applying existing law, although undoubtedly not all judges will be open to this. Judges with the courage to give a ruling on this will one day be applauded, whereas those who don’t will eventually be tarred and feathered.”  – Jaap Spier, Advocate-General to the Dutch Supreme Court

More Tweets

  • MT  @DennisvBerkel ‘Dutch government facing legal action over failure to reduce carbon emissions’ http://t.co/xRx6wMwjts
  • MT @EurEnvlLaw Today in The Hague, the @urgenda case in court: should Dutch state do more against #climatechange? http://bit.ly/1zce7BH
  • MT @MighaelV  Thanks @urgenda for fighting the climate case in court and keeping the Dutch government responsible. #klimaatzaak
  • MT ‏@svenjense In The Hague for #klimaatzaak – Is NL government neglecting our basic rights & future generations? @urgenda