Dutch Citizens Sued Their Government To Act On Climate Change And Won

There's a first time for everything
Earth Justice
Tori Rector/Flickr CC by SA 2.0

For the first time ever, a judicial body has ordered the government of a country to do something about climate change. In a ruling issued yesterday in the Netherlands, The Hague District Court found in favor of 886 Dutch individuals who had filed suit against their government, demanding that officials do more to prevent climate change.

Specifically, the court said “The State also has to ensure that the Dutch emissions in the year 2020 will be at least 25 percent lower than those in 1990.” Currently, the Netherlands is on track to reduce greenhouse gas levels produced by the country to under 17 percent of 1990 levels, but for the Urgenda Foundation, which represented the people bringing the case, 17 percent wasn’t good enough.

“States are meant to protect their citizens,” Marjan Minnesma, director of the Urgenda Foundation told Nature. “If politicians will not do this of their own accord, then the courts are there to help.”

Trying to sue governments or companies to do something about emissions is nothing new. It’s just that most of the time, it doesn’t work. Mashable points out that there have been similar attempts in the United States to get utilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (or ask the government to get them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) but they haven’t succeeded.

Environmental groups hope that the decision in the Netherlands could pave the way for similar decisions to be handed down in other cases, like a current case currently being heard in Belgium.

Victories in the courts are one thing, but the Dutch lawsuit doesn’t say how the government is supposed to meet the new, more ambitious goals. The world will be watching closely to see what happens next.