Court Orders Netherlands to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Urgenda / Chantal Bekker

Nine hundred Dutch citizens took their government to court and won. In a landmark ruling, a Dutch court has ordered its own government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020.

The plaintiffs argued that the government had a legal obligation to protect their citizens from the impact of climate change and accused the government of "knowingly exposing its own citizens to dangerous situations.” Urgenda, the environmental sustainability foundation, brought the suit on behalf of the citizens to make the government honor its commitment to cut the Netherlands’ share in global emissions. As of yet, it’s unclear how the ruling will be enforced.

Jasper Teulings from Greenpeace told BBC News that the case “shifts the whole debate” and could “start of a wave of climate litigation.” Environmentalists suggest the case, which was based on human rights laws, has set a precedent for other countries to follow suit. Urgenda called on the courts to "declare that global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius will lead to a violation of fundamental human rights worldwide."

The Netherlands' plans to cut emissions by only 14-17% from 1990 levels by 2020 were ruled illegal. The surprise ruling was met with cheers and applause, The Telegraph reports. This is the first time a court has legally required a state to take action against climate change, according to Urgenda.

"The parties agree that the severity and magnitude of climate change make it necessary to take measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," the court said in its ruling. "The State must do more to reverse the imminent danger caused by climate change, given also its duty to protect and improve the environment.”

While the Netherlands has already agreed to increase its use of renewable energy, such as windmills and solar energy, as well as reduce gas extractions and close down coal plants, the case compels the government to accelerate the process. The Netherlands has five years to meet its target.

“All the plaintiffs are overjoyed by the result. This makes it crystal clear that climate change is a huge problem that needs to be dealt with much more effectively, and that states can no longer afford inaction. States are meant to protect their citizens, and if politicians will not do this of their own accord, then the courts are there to help,” said Marjan Minnesma, who initiated this case with a team of lawyers, in a statement

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