In Historic Ruling, Dutch Court Says: Climate Action is a Human Right

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In Historic Ruling, Dutch Court Says: Climate Action is a Human Right

Hague District Court says Dutch government has a legal duty to reduce carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2020

Urgenda Foundation supporters celebrate at the Hague District Court after a historic ruling ordered the Dutch government to slash emissions. (Photo: Chantal Bekker/Urgenda)

Urgenda Foundation supporters celebrate at the Hague District Court after a historic ruling ordered the Dutch government to slash emissions. (Photo: Chantal Bekker/Urgenda)

In a landmark ruling that many hope establishes a new global precedent for a state's obligation to its citizens in the face of the growing climate crisis, a Dutch court on Wednesday said that the government has a legal duty to reduce carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2020.

The decision came in response to a lawsuit, launched in November 2013 by the Amsterdam-based environmental nonprofit Urgenda Foundation along with 600 Dutch citizens, which argued that the government was violating international human rights law by failing to take sufficient measures to combat rising greenhouse gas emissions.

"The state must do more to avert the imminent danger caused by climate change, also in view of its duty of care to protect and improve the living environment," read a statement from the Hague District Court.

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Marjan Minnesma, Urgenda Foundation's director, called the ruling a "great victory" and that the judge had the "courage and wisdom to the government 'you have a duty of care toward your citizens.'" Minnesma also said that she hoped the ruling would spur similar court cases against governments around the world.

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According to Urgenda, it marked the first case in Europe in which citizens attempted to hold a state responsible for its potentially devastating inaction, and was the first in the world in which human rights are used as a legal basis to protect citizens against climate change.

Now, with similar suits pending in Belgium and elsewhere, environmentalists are celebrating the victory as a potentially precedent setting moment in the climate fight.

Columnist Nick Meynen, who is one of 10,000 Belgians who on April 27 launched a similar case against their government, explained in a piece published by This Changes Everything on Tuesday: "[I]t’s hard to find any country in the world with climate legislation in place that is in line with what the science requires. Somehow, governments have so far managed to get away with that. But the days of empty promises are over."

Meynen spoke with Roger Cox and Nic Balthazar, the "driving forces behind the Dutch and Belgian climate court cases," who say they are working with colleagues to launch similar suits in Australia, Brazil, Austria, England, Ireland, and Norway. "All of them are closely watching the Dutch court," Meynen wrote.

Meanwhile in the United States, a youth-led movement is suing state governments and what they dub "the ruling generation" accountable for climate inaction.

As 350.org co-founder and communications director Jamie Henn wrote in a Twitter post after the ruling, "if Netherlands sets a precedent, it’s a whole new ballgame."

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