On June 24, 2015, The Hague District Court rendered a historic judgment in the climate case of Urgenda Foundation v the State of the Netherlands.
It always seems impossible until it’s done, Nelson Mandela once said. And once it’s done, it becomes easier to do it again, to replicate it. That’s what makes the Dutch climate case significant: it is precedent setting.
Many lawyers and legal scholars thought such a decision impossible, but here it is and the 60-page decision seems well reasoned. While the ruling is obviously not binding for any other country, it sets an example for the world that will hopefully be replicated many times.
The action argued that by not adequately regulating and curbing Dutch greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the state commits a tort of negligence against its citizens.
The court considered the current Dutch climate policies inadequate and unlawful, labelled them as hazardous negligence and ordered the Dutch government to limit the joint volume of Dutch annual GHG emissions by at least 25 % at the end of 2020 compared to the 1990 level.
The ruling marks the first successful climate change action founded in tort law as well as the first time a court has determined the appropriate emissions-reduction target for a developed state, based on the duty of care.
The ruling can be seen here :
Urgenda chose to base its case on the duty of care, the responsibility of the State to protect its citizens. The ruling states:
The State has an individual obligation and responsibility to ensure a reduction of the emission level of the Netherlands in order to prevent dangerous climate change. This duty of care principally means that a reduction of 25% to 40%, compared to 1990, should be realised in the Netherlands by 2020. A reduction of this extent is not only necessary to continue to have a prospect of a limitation of global warming of up to (less than) 2°C, but is furthermore the most cost-effective. … With its current climate policy, the State seriously fails to meet this duty of care and therefore acts unlawfully.
A Flemish NGO, Klimaatzaak, is pursuing a similar action against the Belgian government.
Juliana v USA
In the USA, 21 plaintiffs aged 10 to 21 are suing the federal government over climate change under a similar principle, the public trust doctrine. This holds that the United States government must maintain and protect certain commonly-held resources, like rivers, or seashores, for use by the public. The plaintiffs hold that the atmosphere also qualifies for protection by the government as part of the public trust.
Since being named as a defendant, the Trump administration has fought all attempts to bring the case to trial.
See Our Children’s Trust website.
See the full Complaint here: