Urgenda Foundation v. State of the Netherlands

Year opened: 2015
Status: Appealed
Jurisdiction: The Netherlands
Principle law(s): European Convention on Human Rights, UNFCCC
Mitigation/adaptation: Mitigation

Summary

A Dutch environmental group, the Urgenda Foundation, and 900 Dutch citizens sued the Dutch government to require it to do more to prevent global climate change. The court in the Hague ordered the Dutch state to limit GHG emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, finding the government’s existing pledge to reduce emissions 17% insufficient to meet the state’s fair contribution toward the UN goal of keeping global temperature increases within two degrees Celsius of pre-industrial conditions. The court concluded that the state has a duty to take climate change mitigation measures due to the “severity of the consequences of climate change and the great risk of climate change occurring.” In reaching this conclusion, the court cited (without directly applying) Article 21 of the Dutch Constitution; EU emissions reduction targets; principles under the European Convention on Human Rights; the “no harm” principle of international law; the doctrine of hazardous negligence; the principle of fairness, the precautionary principle, and the sustainability principle embodied in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; and the principle of a high protection level, the precautionary principle, and the prevention principle embodied in the European climate policy. The court did not specify how the government should meet the reduction mandate, but offered several suggestions, including emissions trading or tax measures. This is the first decision by any court in the world ordering states to limit greenhouse gas emissions for reasons other than statutory mandates.

The Dutch government submitted 29 grounds of appeal. Urgenda submitted a cross-appeal, contesting the court’s decision that Urgenda cannot directly invoke Articles 2 & 8 of the ECHR in these proceedings.

On Oct 9, 2018, the Hague Court of Appeal upheld the District Court’s ruling, concluding that by failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by end-2020, the Dutch government is acting unlawfully in contravention of its duty of care under Articles 2 and 8 of the ECHR. The court recognized Urgenda’s claim under Article 2 of the ECHR, which protects a right to life, and Article 8 of the ECHR, which protects the right to private life, family life, home, and correspondence. The court determined that the Dutch government has an obligation under the ECHR to protect these rights from the real threat of climate change. The court rejected the government’s argument that the lower court decision constitutes “an order to create legislation” or violation of trias politica and the role of courts under the Dutch constitution. In response to these appeals, the court affirms its obligation to apply provisions with direct effect of treaties to which the Netherlands is party, including Articles 2 and 8 of the ECHR. Further, the court found nothing in Article 193 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that prohibits a member state from taking more ambitious climate action than the E.U. as a whole, nor that adaptation measures can compensate for the government’s duty of care to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, nor that the global nature of the problem excuses the Dutch government from action.

The Dutch government appealed the decision. The Netherlands’ Supreme Court heard the appeal on May 24, 2019. On September 13 the Advocate and Procurator General, independent judicial officers, issued a formal opinion recommending that the Supreme Court uphold the decision. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision on December 20.


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