Dutch government in court over failure to act on climate change

detail of white smoke polluted skyA landmark legal case is being heard in The Hague on Tuesday in which 886 Dutch citizens are taking the government to court for not doing enough to avoid climate change.

The Urgenda foundation says this is the first case in Europe in which citizens are attempting to hold the state responsible for not acting fast enough to reduce greenhouse gasses and curb the rise in global temperatures.

The case was first initiated in November 2012 and almost 900 people agreed to join forces as co-plaintiffs.

They are asking the court to declare that the Dutch government must implement policies to reduce its emissions by between 25% and 40% below 1990 levels by 2020.

This is the target developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The reduction is needed to create a 50% chance of avoiding a dangerous 2 Celsius rise in global temperatures, the IPCC agreed.

In addition, they want the court to declare that global warming of more than 2 Celsius will lead to a violation of fundamental human rights worldwide.


Urgenda says the Dutch government acknowledges in a letter ‘that its actions are insufficient to prevent dangerous climate change’.

‘The Netherlands is therefore knowingly exposing its own citizens to dangerous situations, in which they and their children will suffer serious hardship,’ Urgenda states.

‘The Dutch Supreme Court has consistently upheld the principle that the government can be held legally accountable for not taking sufficient action to prevent foreseeable harm. Urgenda argues that this is also the case with climate change.’

Waiting for action

Some 24% of the Netherlands is below sea level.

The plaintiffs include Joos Ockels wife of the late Dutch astronaut Wubbo Ockels, who dedicated his later life to environmental work.

Another supporter, Dutch dj Gregor Salto, told the Guardian: ‘Everybody is waiting for the government to take action but the government has done so little. If the case succeeds, they will be forced to take action. If you look at Denmark, they’ve managed [to reduce emissions], so why can’t we? I want the Dutch to lead the way in this.’

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