Historical court ruling on CO2-reductions in the Netherlands

In 2014, the Dutch NGO Urgenda, together with 886 citizens, filed a law suit against the Dutch state for not taking sufficient action to limit climate change. Today, the court gave its verdict, which could live be followed on internet (in Dutch, without subtitles). The court has also immediately put an English translation of the ruling online. And the court has ruled:

The Hague District Court has ruled today that the State must take more action to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in the Netherlands. The State also has to ensure that the Dutch emissions in the year 2020 will be at least 25% lower than those in 1990.

Many parties have called this a historical ruling, and no doubt this may inspire citizens and activist NGOs in other countries to take their States to court. Few commentators expected that the court would come to this ruling. Many believed that the court would not want to burn its fingers on what is essentially a political process; indeed, some have even gone so far to question whether the division of powers of the Trias Politica would be violated. Yet the court provided an answer to that worry:

With this order, the court has not entered the domain of politics. The court must provide legal protection, also in cases against the government, while respecting the government’s scope for policymaking. For these reasons, the court should exercise restraint and has limited therefore the reduction order to 25%, the lower limit of the 25%-40% norm.

The fact that the ruling only concerns 25% of CO2 reductions highlights that this is not the end of our struggles. A 25% reduction may be fanastic since it’s a court ruling (and that gives it a special kind of political status), but it is not enough. We should also not forgot the sadness of the situation – that we had to go to court to force the government to take action, in a country where legal action is generally not considered a way to do politics or bring activist concerns into the political arena.

Personally, this was the first time I was involved in a court case, being one of the 886 citizens who joined Urgenda (although those 886 citizens were merely providing moral and political support to Urgenda, who did all the work and should get all the credits for this victory). I am very pleased that given that, for many years, the Dutch government has failed to take its responsibilities for climate mitigation sufficiently seriously, we, the citizens, have now found a way to force our government to stop violating the basic rights of people in ecologically more vulnerable parts of the world, as well as those who will live in the future.

Surely the climate change denialists and those who dogmatically try to defend their short-term profit/welfare maximization interests, will try to do what they can to prevent effective change to be implemented. There is lots of money in their hands, and lots of power. This hasn’t been our last battle. But these are worries for tomorrow. Today is a victory for all those who are trying, each in their own way, to press for significant institutional and policy changes to limit the damage of climate change to all creatures living in ecological fragile places, and to preserve the ecosystems of the Earth for future generations.

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