A Dutch court ordered the government on 24 June 2015 to cut down the Netherland’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020.

The class action was brought to the Hague District Court on behalf of 900 Dutch citizens. The lawsuit was co-ordinated by Urgenda, a foundation aiming for a sustainable society and a circular economy.

According to the plaintiffs, the government has a legal obligation to protect the citizens from imminent dangers such as rising sea levels caused by global warming, which especially affect the Netherlands as the country is primarily situated below sea level. The legal arguments put forward by the plaintiffs concerned the principle forbidding states from polluting to the extent that they actually damage other states and the precautionary principle prohibiting actions that may carry considerable unknown risks.

The three judges who tried the case, found that the government has a duty of care towards its citizens, in particular to protect and improve the living environment. According to the court, the current climate policy of the government would only achieve a cut of 17% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, compared with the level from the 1990s, which is not enough given the threat posed by climate change. Moreover, the court said that the government should not excuse itself that solving the problem of climate change depends not only on the Netherlands. Given the above mentioned arguments, the court arrived at the conclusion that the government’s current climate policy is unlawful.

The government of the Netherlands can appeal from this judgment.

The court, however, did not clarify how this ruling is supposed to be enforced. The court may impose fines for failures to comply with its orders, but it has not yet done this against the government.

The implications of this judgment can be far, not only in the field of countering global warming. The judgment expressly recognizes that the state has independent legal obligations towards its citizens, different from those imposed by international treaties.

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