Last Friday, after a six-year fight for climate justice, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands has upheld a ruling ordering the country's government to do much more to cut carbon emissions since the government has an obligation to “protect the residents of the Netherlands from the serious risk of climate change”. This decision is a perfect example of cases which are designed to press national governments to be more ambitious in their fight against climate change.
On 24 June 2015 the Urgenda Foundation, together with 900 citizens (Plaintiffs) won their lawsuit against the Dutch Government (Defendant), forcing it to take more measures against climate change. On 9 October 2018 the Supreme Court of the Hague ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs ordering the Defendant to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020. The Defendant appealed to the Supreme Court which upheld the lower's court decision on 20 December 2019. The Supreme Court ruled that the Defendant had explicit duties to protect its citizens’ human rights in the face of climate change and must reduce emissions by at least 25% compared with 1990 levels by the end of 2020.
Potential impacts of the Supreme Court’s decision on public and private sectors in Europe
A large portion of activity in climate change litigation consists of lawsuits against governments and public bodies. These actions seek increased mitigation ambition, enforcement of existing mitigation and adaptation goals, or consideration of climate change as part of environmental review. The consequences of the Urgenda decision are likely to impact far beyond this suit and influence the filing of similar actions in other jurisdictions, especially in the EU since the decision refers among all legislations to articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights of 1953 and overcame the obstacle of establishing causality. Clearly, climate change litigation continues its geographic expansion in Europe, and private companies should start to give greater consideration to climate risk and incorporate that risk into their decision-making on R&D activities, technologies development, manufacturing, import and licensing.