Dutch Court Orders Emissions Cuts in Landmark Climate Case

Climate activists gather outside the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in The Hague on Friday. (AP Photo/Mike Corder)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – There was crying, cheering and applause Friday as the Supreme Court of the Netherlands ruled that the Dutch government must reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The decision, which is not available in English, brings to an end a seven-year legal battle between the Dutch government and the Urgenda Foundation, a climate activist organization. Urgenda wants the state to take urgent action to reduce the impact of climate change.

“The state, therefore, has the obligation to take appropriate measures to prevent imminent danger,” Presiding Judge Kees Streefkerk said to cheers and applause at the courthouse in The Hague.

“We are extremely happy today,” Urgenda co-founder Marjan Minnesma told reporters after the hearing.

Urgenda brought the case in 2013 on behalf of 900 Dutch citizens who wanted their government to do more to combat climate change. The group has won in two lower Dutch courts, but the government appealed.

Friday’s ruling requires the government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by the end of 2020, as compared to a 1999 benchmark.

“The goal is to reach the goal,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters in January when asked about the 25% reduction.

The court rejected the government’s argument that climate policy is a matter for the parliament and not for the judiciary.

“The court very clearly confirmed that [the government] need to stick to [its] human rights obligations,” said Dennis van Berkel, head of legal counsel for Urgenda.

The Supreme Court found that, under the European Convention on Human Rights and other international treaties such as the Paris Agreement, the Dutch government has an obligation to reduce emissions.

“Under the human rights treaty, the court can say that the state is obliged to achieve the reduction of 25%,” Judge Streefkerk said in court, to another round of applause.

The Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency released a report in November estimating that greenhouse gas emissions in the Netherlands would be 19% to 26% below the 1999 benchmark. To ensure it meets its new obligations, the government will have to take additional measures such as closing coal plants or improving insulation in private housing.

“We are a nation on the rule of law and if the government starts not implementing such a clear judgment of the highest court in the country, we are in a lot of other trouble,” van Berkel said.

The government has already implemented one of the 40 measures suggested by Urgenda: reducing highway speed limits. It will cut the maximum speed limit on national highways from 130 kph, or 81 mph, to 100 kph, or 62 mph, starting next year.

The ruling is final and cannot be appealed.

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