[posted by Arthur Neslen on The Guardian, October 9, 2018] A court in The Hague has upheld a historic legal order on the Dutch government to accelerate carbon emissions cuts, a day after the world’s climate scientists warned that time was running out to avoid dangerous warming.
Appeal court judges ruled that the severity and scope of the climate crisis demanded greenhouse gas reductions of at least 25% by 2020 – measured against 1990 levels – higher than the 17% drop planned by Mark Rutte’s liberal administration.
The ruling – which was greeted with whoops and cheers in the courtroom – will put wind in the sails of a raft of similar cases being planned around the world, from Norway to New Zealand and from the UK to Uganda.
Marjan Minnesma, the director of the Urgenda campaign which brought the case, called on political leaders to start fighting climate change rather than court actions.
She said: “The special report of the IPCC emphasises that we need to reduce emissions with much greater urgency. The Dutch government knows that as a low-lying country, we are on the frontline of climate change. Our own government agencies recently concluded that in the worst case scenario sea levels might rise by 2.5 to 3 metres by the end of the century. The court of appeal’s decision puts all governments on notice. They must act now, or they will be held to account.”
Jesse Klaver, the leader of the Dutch Greens welcomed the decision as “historic news”. He told the Guardian: “Governments can no longer make promises they don’t fulfil. Countries have an obligation to protect their citizens against climate change. That makes this trial relevant for all other countries.”
The Dutch government must now decide whether to appeal to the Netherlands’ supreme court, or explain how it will nearly double the entire amount of greenhouse gas emission cuts it has made since 1990 within one year.
One of two newly opened coal plants would have to be shut down to comply with the original court ruling, according to a report by CE Delft in 2016.
Government sources did not immediately respond to requests for comment but an appeal is thought likely. However, legal sources cautioned that its success was far from assured, given the conservative nature of two courts in The Hague which had now ruled for the Urgenda campaign, and its 886 citizen co-litigants.
State lawyers had argued that the judges were “sidelining democracy” by trying to force a policy change but the court found government proposals “unacceptable” in a stinging and wide-ranging judgement that leaned heavily on the European Convention of Human Rights.
“Climate change is a grave danger,” ruled Judge Tan de Sonnaville. “Any postponement of emissions reductions exacerbates the risks of climate change. The Dutch government cannot hide behind other countries’ emissions. It has an independent duty to reduce emissions from its own territory.”
Rutte’s administration has pledged to reduce emissions by 49% by 2030, but in nearly three decades, the country has so far only cut its emissions by 13%. Since 2012, that figure has barely changed, despite a court ruling for the 25% cut three years ago.
Paul van der Zanden, a spokesman for the Netherlands’ economic affairs and climate ministry said: “A possible appeal by the Dutch government will not interfere with the execution of the the Hague court of appeal’s verdict made today. The Dutch government is fully committed to execute this verdict.”
Van der Zanden added that a 25% emissions cut by 2020 was “feasible” and said that the Dutch environmental assessment agency would deliver an update on the outlook for doing so next spring.
Dennis van Berkel, the legal counsel for Urgenda, which brought the case, told the Guardian that the ruling “has consequences for all governments. They should look at this closely and realise that they are not acting in the interests of their own people. By delaying [climate] actions and not increasing them to the highest possible level – they are violating the rights of their people.”