In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of Netherlands on December 20, 2019, ordered the Netherlands government to act upon climate change and reduce the greenhouse gases emissions by 25% compared to the 1990 levels by the end of 2020.
In 2013, Urgenda, a Dutch environmental foundation, had sued the state government on behalf of 900 citizens to act upon climate change. Two years later, the District Lower Court of Hague ruled that the government needs to slash the emissions by at least 25% by 2020. The government tried to contest upon several issues to repeal the ruling.
After several attempts by the state to repeal the ruling of lower courts, the case finally landed in the Supreme Court, which upheld the rulings of its subordinate courts—thereby ordering the government to cut down the greenhouse emissions and uphold the right to life under Article 2 and well-being under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The court ruling took the view of natural rights, i.e., right to life, in order to protect the rights of the Dutch citizens. According to Article 2 of ECHR,
“Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law. 2. Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of this Article when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary: (a) in defence of any person from unlawful violence; (b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; (c) in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection.”
In its judgment, the court has penned down the ruling in 9 chapters and also referred to a total of 51 sources. The overall reasons for the judgment are set out in chapters 4 to 8, which are as follows:
The court has extensively referred to two earlier rulings of the Court of the Hague for factual information. The two cases are:
It dwells into the scientific reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to support their argument. The court referred to 2 out of the 5 assessment reports of the IPCC. These two reports are:
From both the reports, the court has observed:
“With a temperature rise of 2 ºC above the level of the pre-industrial era, there is a risk of dangerous, irreversible climate change. After analyzing various reduction scenarios, this report states that, in order to achieve the maximum 450 ppm scenario in the year 2100, greenhouse gas emissions from the countries listed in Annex I (industrialized countries) to the UN Climate Convention (including the Netherlands), in the year 2020 must be 25% to 40% lower than in the year 1990. That the earth is warming as a result of the increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere since the start of the industrial revolution and that this is caused by human activities, in particular by burning oil, gas and coal and through deforestation.
In this report, the IPCC concluded that if the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stabilized at around 450 ppm in 2100, the probability that the global temperature rise would remain below 2 ºC is “likely”, i.e.., more than 66%. 87% of the scenarios processed in AR5 to achieve this objective include assumptions with regard to so-called negative emissions.”
The court has also gone through several UNEP international reports, the UN climate conventions, climate conferences or protocols (COP3), the Dutch climate policy, the European climate policy and the Paris Agreement on climate change and human rights as well.
The court has concluded that the Netherlands is a party to several treaties, conventions, and therefore, the state should recognize the aforementioned facts. The state does not dispute the above-mentioned conclusion of the Court of Appeal and endorses the urgent need to take measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The court has ordered the state government to bind to those treaty provisions to ensure that emissions are reduced by 25% by the end of 2020 compared to 1990 levels.
The court has dismissed the government’s appeal and ordered them to pay the cost of the cessation proceedings, estimated up to this decision on the part of Urgenda foundation at approximately 69,601 INR (€ 882.34) in disbursements, and approximately 1,73,555 INR (€ 2,200) as salary.