The Guardian: Dutch Supreme Court Upholds Landmark Ruling Demanding #ClimateAction

Photo above courtesy of Greenpeace Netherlands; taken at the #Protestival held on 14-15 December 2019 at Schiphol International Airport

Article originally published here by Isabella Kaminski in The Guardian, 20 December 2019 at 8.08 EST

The Supreme Court of The Netherlands has upheld a ruling ordering the country’s government to do much more to cut carbon emissions, after a six-year fight for climate justice.

Climate protesters at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport last weekend. Photograph: Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters

The court ruled that the Dutch government had explicit duties to protect its citizens’ human rights in the face of climate change and must reduce emissions by at least 25% compared with 1990 levels by the end of 2020.

The non-profit Urgenda Foundation, which brought the case, welcomed the “groundbreaking” judgment. The original judgment in 2015 was seen as a landmark in the then nascent field of climate litigation, and inspired similar cases across the world, from Pakistan to New Zealand.

David Boyd, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said it was:

“the most important climate change court decision in the world so far, confirming that human rights are jeopardised by the climate emergency and that wealthy nations are legally obligated to achieve rapid and substantial emission reductions.”

The Dutch government had previously said it would comply with the substance of the ruling, but it repeatedly appealed over the legal basis for the decision. The latest national statistics show the Netherlands is very unlikely to meet the 2020 emissions target. 

The Netherlands passed its first piece of national climate legislation in 2018, it has published a more ambitious carbon plan for 2030, and it is closing its first coal plant next year.

According to the Supreme Court, individual nations have direct obligations under Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, covering the right to life and the right to private and family life.

Dennis van Berkel, a member of the legal counsel for Urgenda, said:

“The enormous importance of this case is not just that the Netherlands is obliged to act but that these principles are universal. No court outside the Netherlands is bound by this decision but the influence that this court has and the inspiration that it will give to others are really big.”

Denis van Berkel, litigation attorney for Urgenda

Van Berkel said that if the government did not comply with the ruling, Urgenda could start separate legal proceedings against it.

The Dutch climate minister, Eric Wiebes, said the government had “taken note” of decision and would issue a full response in January. He said the Netherlands had announced an “ambitious” set of measures this year to implement the judgment, although campaigners think it could go much further.

As well as inspiring cases against other national governments, Urgenda’s success has encouraged campaigners to take up legal arms against corporations. In April a group of social and environmental justice groups led by Friends of the Earth Netherlands began the process of suing the oil firm Shell, arguing that its business model threatens international climate goals and endangers human rights.

In a formal reply in November, Shell has denied it was liable. A month earlier the company’s CEO said it had “no choice” but to invest in oil and claimed it was “entirely legitimate” to do so.

“The Supreme Court’s decision has set an important precedent for the Shell case because they used similar legal arguments. It is a huge decision for all current climate litigation cases.”

Nine de Pater, a climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Netherlands

Link to Friends of the Earth Netherlands, to join their petition against Shell Oil Company.

Link to the English version of Urgenda to learn more about their legal initiative.

TIME Magazine: Litigation is a Powerful Tool for Holding Those Responsible for the Climate Crisis to Account

Original article published here 25 September 2019; author Tessa Khan: Ms. Khan is an international human rights lawyer working on climate litigation and co-director of the Climate Litigation Network.

There couldn’t be a greater contrast between the roaring climate strikes all over the world ahead of the U.N. Climate Summit last week and the austere discipline of a courtroom. But these days the same demand is ringing out in streets and in courts: those responsible for the climate crisis must be held accountable.

At key moments in our history, notably in fights for racial and gender equality, courts have helped to accelerate social change. Litigation that is driven by those most affected has personalized abstract injustices, put facts on the public record, and exposed misinformation and political spin. It has also given the imprimatur of a formal hearing to the righteous demands of social movements. For the global movement for climate justice, these cases also help to drive a clear narrative of responsibility: as much as we have been made to grapple with our individual guilt, the truth is that governments and the fossil fuel industry bear the real responsibility for this crisis. Moreover, they know—and have known for decades—what they need to do to get us out of it.

The power of litigation to throw a wrench into the dangerous business-as-usual machinery of governments was first made clear in 2015. Less than two years after environmental group, the Urgenda Foundation and 886 Dutch citizens filed a lawsuit against the government of the Netherlands for its inaction on climate change, a Dutch District Court issued a groundbreaking decision. It found that the government’s failure to take reasonable steps to avoid dangerous levels of climate change was unlawful and ordered it to significantly reduce the Netherlands’ emissions by 2020.

Although the Dutch government appealed the decision, it agreed to implement the court’s order in response to the intense public spotlight that the lawsuit trained on its climate policy. Since 2015, the Dutch parliament has taken a range of measures to reduce emissions, including closing at least one coal-fired power plant, and has enacted some of the most ambitious climate policies in Europe. In 2018, a Court of Appeal emphatically upheld the original decision, citing the human rights obligations of the government. A final appeal by the government will be decided by the Dutch Supreme Court at the end of the year. At this point, the transformative political impact of the litigation is beyond dispute.

Urgenda’s case proved that governments cannot escape legal responsibility for the decades of promises that they have made to address climate change. Those promises date back to at least 1992, when the first international treaty on climate change committed governments to ‘stabilizing’ the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, with rich countries taking the lead. In the 37 years since, we have moved at a terrifying pace in the opposite direction. The concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is higher now than it has been for millions of years and climate change has destabilized and devastated communities all over the world, punishing those who have contributed the least to our planet over-heating. 

At the same time, the fossil fuel industry has continued to extract and sell products that its own scientists warned decades ago will have catastrophic consequences for humanity. A recent study confirmed that 71% of all greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 can be traced to just 100 fossil fuel producers. It should therefore come as no surprise that people around the world, from typhoon-devastated communities in the Philippines, to a Peruvian farmer watching local glaciers disappear, to coastal cities in the US at risk of sea level rise, are taking oil and gas companies to court as well.

For more, full article link here.

@UDAPT representative Letty Fajardo at the 2019 Global Climate Strike in Amsterdam

See You in Court Shell!

FOE Netherlands submits legal summons in historic climate case against Shell.

The Hague, April 5, 2019 – Today Friends of the Earth Netherlands will deliver a court summons to Shell to legally compel the company to cease its destruction of the climate, on behalf of more than 30,000 people from 70 countries. A 236 pagecomplaint will be delivered to Shells International Headquarters in the Hague this afternoon by Friends of the Earth Netherlands, ActionAid NL, Both ENDS, FossielvrijNL, Greenpeace NL,YoungFriends of the Earth NL, Waddenverenigingand a group of 500 co-plaintiffs. 

Donald Pols, Director of Friends of the Earth Netherlands said, “Shell’s directors still do not want to say goodbye to oil and gas. They would pull the world into the abyss. The judge can prevent this from happening.”

In the court summons, Friends of the Earth Netherlands outlines why it is bringing this groundbreaking climate litigation case against Shell, highlighting the company’s early knowledge of climate change and its own role in causing it. Despite acknowledging that the fossil fuel industry has a responsibility to act on climate change, and claiming to “strongly support” the Paris Agreement, Shell continues to lobby against climate policy and to invest billions in further oil and gas extraction.

This is incompatible with global climate goals. 

The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, a key piece of evidence in this case, underlines the importance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees for the protection of ecosystems and human lives, and outlines the devastating and potentially irreversible impacts of any “extra bit of warming”.

The court summons proves that Shell’s current climate ambitions do not guarantee any emissions reductions, but would, in fact, contribute to a huge overshoot of 1.5 degrees of global warming. The plaintiffs argue that Shell is violating its duty of care and threatening human rights by knowingly undermining the world’s chances to stay below 1.5C.

In addition, the plaintiffs argue that Shell is violating Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights: the right to life and the right to family life. In the historic Urgenda case against the Dutch state, the Dutch Appeals court created a precedent by ruling that a failure to achieve climate goals leads to human rights violations.

The court ordered the Dutch state to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020.

Roger Cox, who initially represented Urgenda, is now leading Friends of the Earth’s case against Shell. Roger said, “If successful, the uniqueness of the case would be that Shell, as one of the largest multinational corporations in the world would be legally obligated to change its business operations. We also expect that this would have an effect onother fossil fuel companies, raising the pressure on them to change.”

If successful, the court case would rule that Shell must reduce its CO2emissions by 45% by 2030 compared to 2010 levels and to zero by 2050, in line with Climate Paris Accord. This would have major implications, requiring Shell to move away from fossil fuels.  

Friends of the Earth International Climate Justice and Energy campaigner Sara Shaw said, “In leaked company documents from the 1990s Shell predicted that environmental organizations would start suing the company for causing climate change, if it did not listen to the warnings of its own scientists. Well, that day has come. This rising tide of climate litigation will finally call climate wrecking corporations like Shell to account and stop them in their tracks.”

Several lawsuits holding polluting companies to account for contributing to climate change exist globally. In 2016 a Peruvian farmer filed a lawsuit suing German coal company RWE for its contribution to glacier melt. In 2017 several American cities and states started climate cases against Shell, BP, ExxonMobil and Chevron. 

Media contacts:

Lowie Kok, Friends of the Earth Netherlands
 landline: +31 (0) 20 550 7333
 mobile: +31 (0) 63 4930173

Sara Shaw, Friends of the Earth International; +44 (0)7974 008 270; press@foei.org

For general media enquiries:

Amelia Collinspress; [at]foei.org; +447740979709

Last year Friends of the Earth Netherlands launched the climate case with a liability statement sent to Shell: 
 Legal letter to Shell Wednesday 4 April 2018
 https://www.foei.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Milieudefensie_legal_letter_Shell_4-April-2018.pdf 

Shell’s response to legal letter 28 May 2018https://www.foei.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Royal-Dutch-Shell-plc_legal_response_28-May-218.pdf 

Shell rejects climate demands forcing court action Press release: 29 May 2018
 https://www.foei.org/news/shell-climate-demands-court-action 

Shell faces historic legal action in the Netherlands for its failure to act on climate change. Press release 4 April 2018: https://www.foei.org/press/shell-legal-action-netherlands-climate-change
 

About Friends of the Earth International:

Friends of the Earth International is the world’s largest grassroots environmental network, uniting 75 national member groups and some two million members and supporters around the world.

We challenge the current model of economic and corporate globalisation, and promote solutions that will help to create environmentally sustainable and socially just societies: www.foei.org

At The Crowd Versus, we support Friends of the Earth International in their endeavors to bring this climate case. We will post their important updates in our News feed.