A Dutch Court Just Did The Unthinkable On Carbon Emissions

CREDIT: AP Photo/Peter Dejong

Urgenda Foundation lawyer Roger Cox, right, proposes a toast on the steps of the court house in a scene setup by TV in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, June 24, 2015. A Dutch court has ordered the government to cut the country's greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent by 2020 in a groundbreaking climate case that activists hope will set a worldwide precedent. The Hague District Court made the ruling Wednesday in a case brought by a sustainability organization on behalf of some 900 citizens, claiming that the the government has a duty of care to protect its citizens against looming dangers.

It’s illegal to knowingly ignore the dangers of global warming.

That was essentially the ruling Wednesday from a Dutch court, which ordered the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2020 in order to preserve the low-lying Netherlands and protect its people from the dangers of global warming.

The Hague District Court agreed with the more than 900 plaintiffs, organized by the sustainability advocacy group Urgenda, that the Dutch government has taken “insufficient action against climate change.” The plaintiffs had asked the court to prompt the Dutch government to lower emissions 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, so the court’s decision comes down on the low end of that request.

Environmental advocates lauded the decision, saying that more rulings could be expected in other countries.

“The Dutch court ruling is clear: the government has a legal duty to protect its people against the threat of climate change,” Faiza Oulahsen of Greenpeace Netherlands said in a statement provided to ThinkProgress. “Litigation against governments who fail to take climate change seriously will spread around the world.”

According to the statement, a similar lawsuit is being pursued in Belgium and Greenpeace intends on filing a case in the Philippines.

The ruling may be especially significant in the run up to the United Nations climate summit in Paris at the end of this year, where member nations are expected to commit to significant emissions standards in a global effort to avert catastrophic climate change.

“We had thought the legal system would not want to interfere in the political debate. But the scientific case is so strong, and the dangers so high that the court has ruled that the state is failing to adequately protect its citizens from the effects of climate change,” Pier Vellinga, Urgenda’s chairman, told the Guardian.

Last year, the Netherlands and the United States agreed not to fund new coal-fired power plants in developing nations, saying, “We affirm the importance of reaching a global climate change agreement in 2015 that can attract broad and ambitious participation.” And as a member of the European Union, the Netherlands is already party to a binding target reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990.

Still, the Netherlands hasn’t been as aggressive as some other European Union member countries in terms of renewable energy adoption. In 2013, renewable sources contributed to 4.5 percent of all energy consumed in the Netherlands — far below the 14.1 percent EU average.

Wednesday’s ruling puts the Netherlands on a more ambitious schedule, but it is not clear what enforcement mechanisms there will be. The government can appeal the ruling, but has not yet said whether it will do so.

Despite the ongoing political debate in the United States, the scientific consensus for years has been that humans are causing global warming.