In what is being considered a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court in the Netherlands ordered the country’s government to scale up climate action and reduce much further greenhouse gas emissions – following a six-year legal fight at courts.
The government has explicit duties to protect its citizens' human rights because of climate change, the Supreme Court said, asking the government to cut emissions by at least 25% compared to 1990 levels by the end of next year.
Nevertheless, the chances of that actually happening are slim. Emissions were down 15% by the end of 2018. Dutch climate experts agree emissions could be reduced by 23% by the end of 2020, but reductions will likely be as low as 19% with the current trajectory.
The Urgenda Foundation, which started the complaint at the Supreme Court, welcomed what it considered as a “groundbreaking” ruling. The case is considered a key landmark in climate litigation and has inspired similar actions in other parts of the world.
United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and the environment David Boyd said: “It was the most important climate change court decision in the world so far, confirming that human rights are jeopardized by the climate emergency and that wealthy nations are legally obligated to achieve rapid and substantial emission reductions.”
The Supreme Court said in its ruling that countries have direct obligations due to articles 2 and 8 of the European conventions on human rights, which cover the right to life and the right to private and family life. "There is a great deal of consensus in the scientific and international community over the urgent need for a reduction in greenhouse gases,” the court said.
Back in June, the Dutch government introduced its climate action plan, hoping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 49% by 2030 and phase out coal-fired electricity generation since 2020. Carbon dioxide emissions haven’t changed much in the Netherlands since 1990, while there were cuts in other gases.
Dutch ministers announced last month a reduction in the daytime speed limit to 100km/h (62mph), under pressure to act due to a nitrogen oxide pollution crisis. The government was forced to act due to the Council of State, claiming the Dutch rules were violating EU rules.
Dennis van Berkel, a member of the legal counsel for Urgenda, said: “The enormous importance of this case is not just that the Netherlands is obliged to act but that these principles are universal. No court outside the Netherlands is bound by this decision but the influence that this court has and the inspiration that it will give to others are really big.”