Dutch government heads to court on climate change charges

Campaigners say they are confident of victory over state as they finally eye day in court after three year legal challenge

(Pic: Bigstock)

(Pic: Bigstock)

By Ed King

The Dutch government will have to defend its climate change policies in court next week, when an action brought by campaigners is finally heard by three district judges in the Hague.

The case is believed to be the first where human rights legislation has been used to force a state to explain why it believes its plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are adequate and fair.

Dutch pressure group Urgenda, which is behind the action, started proceedings in 2012 with the support of climate scientist James Hansen, accusing the government of implementing weak clean energy targets.

After an exchange of four letters between both sides, arguments will be heard on April 14. Urgenda’s Marjan Minnesma, who has led the NGO’s campaign, told RTCC she felt they had a strong case.

“The Dutch government is by far not doing enough, they have a goal for 2020 of 14% clean energy and in 2023 16% – it is not really going quickly enough if you want to avoid a catastrophe in this and the next generations,” she said.

“We are standing for what is necessary to do. 10 years ago we would not have tried this but I think things are changing..it’s more clear to a broad group we are heading to a catastrophe.”

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The case comes weeks after a panel of eminent international judges and legal experts from countries including India, Brazil, the US and China released the Oslo Principles, which hold that governments have an obligation to avert dangerous global warming.

Nearly 200 countries – including the Netherlands – are involved in talks on a global climate deal, which is set to be finalised in Paris this December.

Urgenda’s goal is for the court to order officials to cut emissions by up to 40% on 1990 levels by 2020. So far the government has declined to comment on the case.

In the 1990s and early 2000s the Dutch state was regarded as a climate leader, encouraging the development of renewable energy technologies and implementing plans for the low-lying country to cope with rising sea levels.

Those adaptation plans remain some of the most advanced and ambitious around the world, but activists say it is falling behind other EU member states when it comes to clean energy use.

The Netherlands sources 4% of its electricity from renewables, compared to 15% in the UK., and is in the bloc’s top 10 of emissions when calculated per person. Last year it opened three new coal-fired power plants with a total capacity of 2,700 megawatts.

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Roger Cox from the law firm Paulussen Advocaten, which is advising Urgenda, told RTCC he felt they had a “good chance” of winning the case and suggested it could set a precedent in other countries.

“We are not using exotic legal principles – these are ones that are quite universal in the West. Tort [a civil wrong] and human rights are the basis for our case,” he said.

“What we are saying is that our government is co-creating a dangerous change in the world… we feel that there’s a shared responsibility for any country to do what is necessary in its own boundaries to mitigate GHG emissions as much as is needed.”

Cox said “a lot of lawyers” around the world will be watching the case closely, and cited “respected lawyers” who have suggested the claim has strong grounds.

Minnesma said the action had deep support among many government officials who felt they should be doing more to curb emissions growth.

“As actors of the state they are not allowed to say this…. but there are many people there who hope we win so they can do what we think is necessary – but they are part of a right wing politics and they cannot say what they think,” she said.

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