Dutch government announces measures to comply with Urgenda Supreme Court decision; Ontario government seeks to dismiss youth-led climate case

The Urgenda Climate Case against the Dutch Government was the first in the world to establish that a government has a legal duty to its citizens to prevent dangerous climate change.  The case began in 2013, with a District Court ruling in 2015 that the government must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020.  Following appeals by the government, in a December 2019 decision hailed as a landmark, the Dutch Supreme Court ordered the government to reduce emissions by 15 megatonnes in 2020. A timeline with links to all the decisions in the case is maintained by the Urgenda Foundation here .

Now finally, in April 2020, the Dutch government announced how it will comply, accepting 30 of the measures proposed  in Urgenda’s “54 Climate Solutions Plan”. Most importantly, the government ordered a 75% reduction in capacity at the country’s three coal-fired power stations; the full list of actions is summarized in “Climate action under duress: how Dutch were forced into emissions cuts” (The Guardian, May 4) , which also describes the long and contested route to this precedent-setting  achievement.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights noted in a press release after the Supreme Court decision in December 2019 :

“The recognition by the highest Dutch court that the Netherlands’ human rights obligations provide a legal basis to compel stronger and more rapid action by the Government is vitally important. This landmark ruling provides a clear path forward for concerned individuals in Europe – and around the world – to undertake climate litigation in order to protect human rights, and I pay tribute to the civil society groups which initiated this action. …. more ambitious climate action, in all parts of the world, is a human rights obligation rather than simply a policy choice.”

Ontario’s Youth-led climate case

The importance of the Urgenda decision may offer encouragement for the citizens around the world who are seeking to force governments to act on climate change.  In Ontario on April 15, Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General filed a motion asking the courts to dismiss a youth-led lawsuit, as described in  “Ford government files motion to strike down youth-led climate lawsuit” (April 16) . Seven young people are being represented in the case, Mathur et. al. v. Her Majesty in Right of Ontario .  According to the Case Backgrounder by Ecojustice, one of the representatives:  “The lawsuit aims to strike down Ontario’s current 2030 target as unconstitutional and enshrine the right to a safe, healthy climate as part of the right to life, liberty and security of the person in Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This would require the Government of Ontario to set a new target in line with the scientific consensus, and revise its policies accordingly. “

Dutch Government Announces it will appeal the landmark Urgenda Climate Change Decision

As reported in the June WCR  , the courts of the Netherlands ruled that the government  has a legal duty of care to its citizens to improve the environment, and ordered the government to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020. However, on September 1, the Dutch government announced it would appeal the decision.  Environmentalists around the world have been inspired by the implications for their own legal systems: see “Around the world in five climate lawsuits”  . A sampling of thought from Canada: Dutch climate court win – What does it mean for Canada? (June 26) at and Dutch Judicial Lessons for Canada (West Coast Environmental Law ); What the Dutch Climate Court win means for Canada   (Ecojustice); Exciting developments in Climate Change Law (Alberta Environmental Law Centre); “Are countries legally required to protect their citizens from climate change?”  (Corporate Knights , July 28). And most recently, the reports sparked by a public lecture in Toronto by Roger Cox, Urgenda lawyer: “Dutch climate lawsuit could work in Canada: lawyer”  in The Tyee (Sept. 15); and “Canadian Courts could face Climate Change cases in wake of Dutch ruling”  Globe and Mail (Sept. 14).

From Australia: Could Australians sue for climate action ?.  For a U.S. viewpoint, see The Enormous Significance For Climate Law and Ethics Of a Dutch Court’s Order Requiring the Netherlands To Reduce Its GHG Emissions by 25% by 2020  at the Ethics and Climate website. From a legal viewpoint, The Urgenda decision: Balanced constitutionalism in the face of climate change? (Oxford University Press).

Watch the Urgenda Foundation website for news of the appeal by the Dutch government.