The 900 environmentalists who beat the Dutch government

The 900 environmentalists who beat the Dutch government

The ruling, which forces the Dutch government to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020, could set a precedent for environmental activists in other parts of the world to resort to similar strategies.

The lawsuit was filed by the NGO Urgenda, which represents a group of about 900 Dutch citizens.

Urgenda's argument is based on the government having a legal obligation to protect its citizens from the dangers that global warming brings.

"This completely changes the debate," said Greenpeace's Jasper Teulings, who described the case as "iconic."

"Other cases are already being filed in Belgium, the Philippines ... It is the beginning of a wave of climate litigation," added Teulings.

Binding ruling

In the opinion of Anna Holligan, the BBC's Hague correspondent, the trial forces the Dutch government to honor its commitment to cut emissions.

For activists, the announcement was an emotional moment.

In practical terms, Holligan explains, "the government had already agreed to close coal plants, increase the use of wind turbines and solar energy and drastically reduce gas extraction in the north of the country."

"But this case puts pressure on the government to accelerate the process to reach its goals and use its energy more efficiently in the next five years."

The ruling is legally binding.

Obligation to protect its citizens

The court based its decision on primarily citing the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other scientific organizations.

According to the court, if the Netherlands continues its current policy, emissions could only be reduced by 17% by 2020, a lower percentage than other nations.

After the victory, the celebrations of Urgenda.

"The parties agreed that the severity and magnitude of climate change make it necessary to take measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," the court said.

The decision was also supported in part by human rights laws. According to the verdict, "human rights laws and environmental laws are mutually supportive."

Urgenda's argument was based on the government's obligation to care for its citizens and improve the environment.

Unless urgent action is taken, extreme weather events, melting ice caps and food and water shortages could occur in the next half of this century, the NGO says.


The Netherlands is particularly vulnerable due to its geographical characteristics and must cut its emissions by a quarter from its 1990 levels.

This will require firm action, explains BBC environment correspondent Helen Briggs.

Gas and coal supply much of the energy needs of the Netherlands, which lags behind in the use of renewables compared to its neighbors, Denmark and the Netherlands, says Briggs.

Although the government can appeal to a higher court, the structure of the justice system is such, says Marjan Minnesma, director of the NGO Urgenda, that "now that they have said 'yes' it is very difficult in the next phase to say 'no'" .

It is not yet clear how the ruling will be implemented.

BBC World

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