A three-judge panel in The Hague, Netherlands, ordered the Dutch government to cut state emissions by 25% (based on 1990 carbon levels) within five years. The ruling is unprecedented and represents a landmark legal victory for proponents of clean, alternative energy sources.
Previously, the Netherlands had pledged to reduce carbon output 14-17% by 2020, but Urgenda (a Dutch climate-change advocacy group), filed lawsuit in 2012, claiming that the government is “acting unlawfully by not contributing its proportional share to preventing…global warming.” Petitioners asked the courts to “declare that…warming of more than two degrees Celsius will lead to a violation of fundamental human rights worldwide.”
Both European Union (EU) and United Nations (UN) climate guidelines were used as legal justification by Urgenda to bring the suit, such as the EU’s so called ‘precautionary principle’, a somewhat vague rule that prohibits devastating, yet unintended consequences of state actions.
“The state should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate change problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts,” the court panel stated in its ruling. “Any reduction of emissions contributes to the prevention of dangerous climate change and as a developed country the Netherlands should take the lead in this.”
Urgenda’s legal counsel, Dennis van Berkel was ecstatic about the outcome of the case and the precedent it could set for future lawsuits across Europe.
“Before this judgement, the only legal obligations on states were those they agreed among themselves in international treaties,” said van Berkel. “This is the first time a court has determined that states have an independent legal obligation towards their citizens.”
While Wednesday’s ruling is a good reason for environmentalists and clean energy advocates in EU countries to celebrate, Dutch opposition party officials have hinted that they may appeal the case.
“The government has never ignored a court ruling like this one before, but there has never been a ruling like this before either,” said a female member of parliament from the D66 liberal party. “Everybody has a right to appeal.”
So we’ll see what happens within the next few years regarding European climate change policy and whether other sovereign state court’s are willing to follow the Netherlands lead in ruling against its own government’s laws in favor of policies set by international governing bodies.
Some may go along more willingly than others, but the general acceptance of the rule of international law is trending upwards. As a result, we may see a divisive split in European party politics along the lines of the wide liberal Democrat/conservative Republican divide that the U.S. is currently experiencing.