A landmark climate lawsuit (Urgenda v Netherlands) has been heard this week in the Netherlands. The Urgenda Foundation and its co-plaintiffs seek to hold the Dutch Government responsible for failing to take sufficient measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause dangerous climate change. The Urgenda case is the first of its kind to be filed in Europe, and could be replicated in other jurisdictions. A similar case has been initiated in Belgium (PDF).
Urgenda began this case in 2012, when it wrote to the Dutch government asking for action. It followed this letter with a call for ‘crowd pleading’ where it invited Dutch citizens to join the case as co-plaintiffs. Over 900 citizens have joined the suit which was filed on 20 November 2013, and heard in The Hague on 14 April 2015.
The plaintiffs have alleged that the Dutch government has knowingly exposed its citizens to dangerous situations, in which they and their children will suffer serious hardship. The Dutch Supreme Court has previously held that the government can be held legally accountable for not taking sufficient action to prevent foreseeable harm. Urgenda and the co-plaintiffs argue that this also applies to climate change.
The hearing comes just weeks after a group of eminent jurists released the Oslo Principles, which provide that all governments have an obligation to avert dangerous climate change, irrespective of the existence of international agreements. The Oslo Principles are based upon existing international human rights, environmental and tort laws.
The Urgenda case could establish precedent and inspire citizen lawsuits around the world. The case reflects the urgent need for international cooperation, and provides an insight into the role that the judiciary could play in tackling climate change. The prevailing trend of government inaction may not only be morally inadequate, but also legally unacceptable.
Read more about the case: CJP Climate Law Database