In a landmark ruling a court in the Netherlands has ordered that the government must act more swiftly to fight climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% over the next 5 years. The ruling agreed with the plaintiffs argument that the government had a legal responsibility to protect it’s citizens from climate change and that the planned 17% reduction for 2020 was insufficient. The case was brought before the court by an organization called Urgenda on behalf of 900 dutch citizens.
The Urgenda Foundation has filed a lawsuit against the Dutch Government for not taking sufficient measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause dangerous climate change. The Urgenda Climate Case is the first case in Europe in which citizens attempt to hold a state responsible for its potentially devastating inaction. It is also the first case in the world in which human rights are used as a legal basis to protect citizens against climate change
Unlike the G7 pledge to eliminate fossil fuels by 2100 from earlier this month, this court ruling is based on tort law and is legally binding. Tort law is a founding concept in many legal systems where parties can recover damages for harm brought by crimes or negligence, a concept which would seem to very clearly describe the results of climate change by negligent governments and companies as well. The government can still appeal the decision, but has not commented yet if it will. Regardless it is expected that Urgenda and other environment organizations will use this example to move forward with similar legislation in other countries around the world, looking to force governments to act where politicians and markets have been failing to for decades.
Our friends over at A Call to the Bar are also taking note of a decision by an American court in Seattle.
The Seattle decision requires the Washington Department of Ecology to reconsider its denial of a petition by eight youths who asked the Department to adopt rules that would help restore global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to 350 parts per million (ppm). Until 1950, carbon dioxide levels had not exceeded 300 ppm in the last 650,000 years, but they exceeded 400 ppm in 2013, and are still rising.
The department had originally denied the petition, but the courts ruling will force it to reconsider.
A couple of hopefully signs from the courts that some action will be taken to preserve and stabilize our climate, if it’s not already too late.