On May 28 the Hague Court of Appeal heard the Dutch government’s appeal of the Hague District Court’s ground-breaking 2015 decision in Urgenda Foundation v. The Kingdom of the Netherlands (Urgenda) to order the Dutch government to lower its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. The Court of Appeal is expected to deliver its decision on 9 October.
On the same day as the Urgenda appeal, Royal Dutch Shell (Shell) responded to Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie)’s letter-of-intent to sue Shell over its contributions to climate change. Shell rejected Milieudefensie’s allegations and demands, paving the way for Milieudefensie to commence proceedings. The proposed legal action against Shell is based on the same provision of the Dutch Civil Code as was successfully applied against the Dutch government in 2015. It is expected that Milieudefensie will commence proceedings in late-2018. Milieudefensie are represented in their action against Shell by attorney Roger Cox, the same attorney who represented Urgenda in their initial proceeding against the Dutch government in 2015.
April 9, 2016
September 1, 2015
Dutch State announces decision to appeal the verdict.
July 1, 2015
"Is Suing Governments The Future Of Climate Change Action?"
June 24, 2015
The Hague District Court ruled in favor of the Urgenda Foundation (representing multi-generations of citizens), finding that the severity and scope of the climate problem make it necessary for the Dutch government to reduce the Dutch greenhouse gas emissions at a much higher pace. In its ruling, the court imposed a 25% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 upon the government, ruling that the current Dutch climate policies that aim for only a 16% reduction in 2020 are unlawful.
The Dutch court considered that the nature and extent of the damage ensuing from climate change, the knowledge and foreseeability of this damage, and the chance that hazardous climate change will occur are such that the Dutch government has a serious duty of care to take measures to prevent it. According to the court it is an established fact that the Dutch government has the constitutional power to control the collective Dutch emissions level and that it indeed controls it. By signing the UN climate treaty, the State once again expressly accepted its responsibility for the national emission level and in this context accepted the obligation to reduce emissions as much as needed to prevent dangerous climate change.
The court found that the State should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts. In the words of the court: Dutch per capita emissions are one of the highest in the world and any reduction of emissions contributes to the prevention of dangerous climate change. Also, the court ruled that there is enough evidence to assume a sufficient causal link between the Dutch greenhouse gas emissions, global climate change, and the effects (now and in the future) on the Dutch living climate.
Read the joint blog post describing the Dutch win by Roger Cox, Julia Olson, and Serge de Gheldere, Judges Can Save Us From Climate Change, And They've Already Started.
April 16, 2015
"A Dutch Group Is Suing Its Government Over Climate Change; Could We Do The Same In America?"
April 14, 2015
"In Landmark Case, Dutch Citizens Sue Their Government Over Failure to Act on Climate Change"
Our Children's Trust partner and Dutch attorney Roger H.J. Cox gives a TEDx talk: Juridical action against climate change.
November 20, 2013
In the Netherlands, and with the support of Our Children's Trust, hundreds of citizens have taken to the courts to seek climate justice and protection of their human rights. These 886 Dutch citizens—along with the Dutch Urgenda foundation — served a summons on their government to hold the State liable for its role in failing to take measures to prevent dangerous climate change. The summons asks the Court of The Hague to compel the Dutch government to live up to its obligations under Dutch Law, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The plaintiffs argue that under Dutch tort law, the State can be held liable for negligence due to its failure to adequately reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Additionally, the government’s continuing fossil fuel subsidies make the Dutch State further liable for its contribution to climate change. The plaintiffs claim that the State’s failure to take steps to reduce GHG emissions by 25–40% before the year 2020 violates its obligations under the UNFCCC. They also argue that the government’s failure also violates the ECHR, which protects individuals’ right to life and families’ right to privacy and health. Over half of the territory of the Netherlands lies below sea level, and the majority of Dutch citizens live below sea level. Therefore, climate change poses a very real risk both to life and to the right of families to maintain their health.
The citizens of the Netherlands are not alone in their attempt to seek climate justice in the courts. Our Children’s Trust partner, attorney Roger H.J. Cox, represents the plaintiffs. Cox notes in the Utrecht Journal of International and European Law that the European Union and its Member States have not taken the necessary steps to reduce GHG emissions by the amount required under the UNFCCC and the 2010 Cancún Agreement. He also states that legal actions similar to the Dutch summons can be pursued in other European countries because “each European State has a duty of care to reduce its nation’s greenhouse gas emissions from its own territory to a level that is necessary . . . to help prevent dangerous climate change.”
By showing the important connection between climate change and human rights, Cox and the over 800 Dutch citizens he represents are proving that the law has a vital role to play as the guardian of our most cherished rights.