The Netherlands has to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by next year under a ruling issued Friday by the country’s Supreme Court, which said global warming poses “great dangers to life on earth.”
The figure is significantly more than the 20 percent cut compared to 1990 levels called for under the Netherlands’ EU targets, and is far above the reductions the country has managed to accomplish.
The government said it would study the verdict and react next month. “As the government has previously indicated, it will continue striving to 25 percent,” Economy and Climate Minister Eric Wiebes said in a letter to parliament.
The court said it based its judgment on the U.N. climate convention and “the legal obligations of the state to protect the lives and well-being of citizens in the Netherlands.”
The Supreme Court verdict upholds earlier lower court decisions compelling the government to increase its climate efforts in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement. The government had objected, but the court dismissed the government’s appeal.
The decision is a win for Dutch NGO Urgenda which originally brought the case against the government. It said the court “delivered a groundbreaking decision that confirms that individual governments must do their fair share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
The NGO said the decision would likely compel the government to close coal-fired power plants which opened as recently as three years ago; coal accounts for about 12 percent of the country’s energy consumption.
Who sets the rules?
The case dug into the issue of whether governments have the sole right to set policy in areas like climate change where there is an overwhelming public interest. Urgenda charged that the government’s planned pace of greenhouse gas emissions reductions was much too slow to combat global warming, and shirked its duty to protect its citizens.
In 2015, a court in The Hague backed the NGO’s call for the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent by 2020.
The government appealed over concerns that the decision could set a precedent by allowing courts to set government policy. In 2018, an appeals court backed Urgenda’s lawsuit.
The government has said it would go ahead and begin carrying out the court’s emissions mandate. It’s been an uphill struggle, with emissions reductions reaching nearly 15 percent last year, compared to 1990 levels — a far cry from 25 percent. The Netherlands aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 49 percent by 2030, according to its national Climate Agreement.
It’s not the first time that Dutch courts have forced the government’s hand this year.
Earlier this year, the country’s highest administrative court said government rules for granting construction permits and farming activities that emit large amounts of nitrogen breach EU legislation. Up to 18,000 infrastructure and construction projects were stalled, and furious farmers staged several huge protests over fears they’d be forced to slash livestock herds. Farmers and the government reached a provisional deal with the government earlier this week.
In his letter, Wiebes said: “The government keeps developing further measures to reduce emissions of both greenhouse gases and nitrogen.”
The Urgenda case has inspired lawsuits aimed at increasing government action, including in Belgium, France, Ireland, Germany, New Zealand, the U.K., Switzerland, Norway and against the EU, the NGO said.
David R. Boyd, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said in a statement that the verdict is “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.”
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