Citizen Action Monitor

Dutch foundation and 900 co-plaintiffs file lawsuit against State for failing to cut emissions to curb climate change

It’s first case in world in which human rights are used as legal basis to protect citizens against climate change

Is it time for Canada’s environmental organizations to take similar legal action against the Harper government?

No 1312 Posted by fw, April 15, 2015

“In a letter to Urgenda the Dutch government acknowledged that its actions are insufficient to prevent dangerous climate change. Urgenda concludes that The Netherlands is therefore knowingly exposing its own citizens to dangerous situations, in which they and their children will suffer serious hardship. In legal terms, that is a wrongful act of the State. The Dutch Supreme Court has consistently upheld the principle that the government can be held legally accountable for not taking sufficient action to prevent foreseeable harm. Urgenda argues that this is also the case with climate change. The Urgenda Foundation and its co-plaintiffs believe that preventing dangerous climate change is not only morally and politically the right thing to do, but also that it is a legal obligation that cannot be ignored.”Urgenda Foundation

Almost 5 years ago, on August 5, 2010, I fired off an email to Ecojustice, Canada’s legal champion for a healthy environment:

“As a monthly donor to Ecojustice, and with respect to the Tar Sands’ concerns that Andrew Nikiforuk has documented in his July 15, 2010 article, What Those Who Killed the Tar Sands Report Don’t Want You to Know, I’m interested to know 1) if Ecojustice believes there are grounds for legal action against the federal government? and 2) if there is a case here, is Ecojustice contemplating legal action? I look forward to your timely reply.”

To read the reply from Ecojustice, click on this post that I published on August 5, 2010: I ask Ecojustice — “Are there grounds to take legal action against the feds?”

In light of the Urgenda lawsuit presented below, one wonders if Ecojustice might respond differently to my question today. It’s time for another email.

To read Urgenda’s account of their lawsuit, click on the following linked title. Optionally, a cross-post appears below, including a link to a 17:51-minute video: How EU action could save Earth from climate disaster: Roger Cox at TEDxFlanders.

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The Urgenda climate case against the Dutch government by Urgenda Foundation, [no date]

The Urgenda Foundation has filed a lawsuit against the Dutch Government for not taking sufficient measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause dangerous climate change. The Urgenda Climate Case is the first case in Europe in which citizens attempt to hold a state responsible for its potentially devastating inaction. It is also the first case in the world in which human rights are used as a legal basis to protect citizens against climate change.

The Climate Case was initiated in November 2012 with a letter to the government asking for action and a call for ‘crowd pleading’ in which Dutch citizens could support the case and join as co-plaintiffs. A year later on 20 November 2013, Urgenda together with 900 co-plaintiffs filed the case against the Dutch government. On 14 April 2015, the district court in The Hague will hear the arguments of the parties.

On 30 March 2015 the Oslo Principles on Global Climate Change Obligations were launched, formulated by an international group of eminent jurists, including High Court judges, law professors and advocates from countries such as Brazil, China, India, the US and the Netherlands. The Oslo principles hold that regardless of the existence of international agreements, governments already have a legal obligation to avert the harmful effects of climate change, based on existing international human rights law, environmental law and tort law. 

The Oslo group endorses the arguments that Urgenda brings forward in its climate case and also provides support to initiatives in other countries to involve the courts in their efforts to contain climate change.

On April 8, Dutch daily newspaper Trouw published an extensive interview with Jaap Spier, Advocate-General to the Dutch Supreme Court, concerning the Oslo Principles and the Urgenda climate case. According to Spier, ‘Courts can force countries to adopt effective climate policies. Court cases are perhaps the only way to break through the political apathy about climate change.’

From the article: Does a judge need to be an activist in order to make a statement about climate change? “No”, says Spier, “it is just a matter of applying existing law, although undoubtedly not all judges will be open to this. Judges with the courage to give a ruling on this will one day be applauded, whereas those who don’t will eventually be tarred and feathered.” 

An informal translation of the interview can be downloaded here. The Guardian published this piece on the Oslo principles by two legal experts.

Following the Dutch example, a group of well-known Belgians started legal proceedings against their government. For more information on that case, go towww.klimaatzaak.be/en

THE URGENCY OF TAKING ACTION

The recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have once again confirmed that urgent action is required to avert a dangerous warming of our planet. Governments including the Dutch state are taking small steps, but these continue to fall far short of what is necessary. If emissions are not drastically reduced before 2020, the second half of the 21st century will be one of danger, extreme weather events, quickly diminishing ice caps, and shortage of water and food, which in turn can cause social unrest and violence. All this can be prevented if the right actions are taken.

THE LEGAL CASE AGAINST THE DUTCH STATE

In a letter to Urgenda the Dutch government acknowledged that its actions are insufficient to prevent dangerous climate change. Urgenda concludes that The Netherlands is therefore knowingly exposing its own citizens to dangerous situations, in which they and their children will suffer serious hardship. In legal terms, that is a wrongful act of the State. The Dutch Supreme Court has consistently upheld the principle that the government can be held legally accountable for not taking sufficient action to prevent foreseeable harm. Urgenda argues that this is also the case with climate change. The Urgenda Foundation and its co-plaintiffs believe that preventing dangerous climate change is not only morally and politically the right thing to do, but also that it is a legal obligation that cannot be ignored.

In the climate case, Urgenda requests the court —

1) To declare that global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius will lead to a violation of fundamental human rights worldwide.

2) To declare that the Dutch State is acting unlawfully by not contributing its proportional share to preventing a global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius.

3) To order the Dutch State to drastically reduce Dutch CO2 emissions even before 2020 to the level that has been determined by scientists to be in line with less than 2 degrees Celsius of global warming, that is, to reduce Dutch emissions by 40% by 2020 below 1990 levels.

  • The letter to the Dutch government of November 2012 is available here
  • A translation of the summons is available here
  • A legal summary, published in the Utrecht Journal of International and European Law is available here

PROCEDURAL STEPS

  • 2 April 2014 – Dutch State answered the summons of Urgenda by submitting its defence to the court
  • 10 September 2014 – Urgenda submitted its reply to the defence of the Dutch State
  • 19 January 2015 – The Dutch State submitted the rejoinder to the reply of Urgenda
  • 14 April 2015 – Hearing before the district court in The Hague

COURT HEARING 14 APRIL 2015

This climate case is being brought by the Urgenda Foundation and 900 co-plaintiffs. On April 14, more than 200 of these will be present at the hearing in before the district court in the Hague, among them – Joos Ockels, architect Thomas Rau, WakaWaka entrepreneur Maurits Groen, DJ Gregor Salto, representatives of the Young Sustainable top 100, and many parents and children. The climate case is supported by professors Frans Stokman, Wim Hafkamp, and Pier Vellinga, by students, by entrepreneurs including sustainability pioneer Ruud Koornstra, by weatherman Reinier van den Berg, and by professional adventurer and climate journalist Bernice Notenboom. Also attending will be representatives of the Belgian climate case Stijn Meuris and Serge de Gheldere.

PROGRAM

  • 8:30 AM: Brief explanation by Urgenda director Marjan Minnesma and photography session with co-plaintiffs
  • 9:30 AM: Official start of the climate case

REVOLUTION JUSTIFIED

The idea for a Dutch climate case came from the book Revolution Justified of the Dutch lawyer Roger Cox, who is also one of the lawyers representing Urgenda. His call to involve the judiciary in averting the climate crisis was published in the Guardian on 14 November 2012. In March 2014 Roger Cox gave a presentation on the climate case at a TEDx conference; To watch this 17:51-minute video click on the following linked title —

How EU action could save Earth from climate disaster: Roger Cox at TEDxFlanders 17:51

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This entry was posted on April 15, 2015 by in climate change, evidence based counterpower, legal counterpower, NGO counterpower and tagged , , .
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