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Landmark Dutch ruling takes intrepid stance on emissions and government’s duty towards citizens

15 August 2015

As the Pope shows the way in his Encyclical (above), a Dutch court has shown the way by ruling that the Dutch Government was not doing enough to halt climate change. The court ordered the Dutch government to cut its emissions by at least 25 per cent within five years, claiming Government plans to cut emissions by just 14 - 17 per cent compared to 1990 levels by 2020 were unlawful given the scale of the threat posed by climate change.

Campaigners from Urgenda, the Dutch NGO which brought the case said, “This is the first a time a court has determined that states have an independent legal obligation towards their citizens. That must inform the reduction commitments in Paris, because if it doesn’t, they can expect pressure from courts in their own jurisdictions.”

In this first climate liability suit brought under human rights and tort law, Judge Hans Hofhuis said the threat posed by global warming was severe. “The state should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts,” the ruling stated. “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 arguments rested on rules forbidding states from polluting to the extent that they damage other states, and on the EU’s ‘precautionary principle,’ which prohibits actions that carry unknown but potentially severe risks.

Similar cases are underway in Belgium, Norway and the Philippines, and other countries are expected to follow suit. As a last line of defence in the face of inadequate government action to halt climate change, it is hoped that those judiciaries will be as unflinching in defending their citizens.

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