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.

Canada: Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act Upheld in Ontario Court of Appeal

11 July 2019: a short update on climate legislation in Canada

This recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision has the potential to create definitive clarity in the difficult subject of proper legislation and climate change. The Court found the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act “constitutional” and within Parliament’s jurisdiction to legislate, i.e. to impose charges regulatory in nature, which are connected to the Act — and are not taxes.

The case itself deals with the validity of carbon pricing. The short background is that the Canadian federal government implemented carbon pricing and the Ontario provincial government appealed the decision saying that such a “carbon tax” infringed on provincial rights. They were overruled, with the Court of Appeal noting that climate change and therefore Greenhouse Gas (GHG) regulation is an issue of national concern.

This is one of the first serious discussion in any Canadian court (there was an earlier decision in Saskatchewan on the same issue which was not as well written) about climate change and the constitution, one that will inevitably go to the Supreme Court of Canada this or next year.

The first part of the decision (p. 3 onwards) does an excellent job of giving a background on GHGs and Climate Change and recognizes that combating climate change is a collective effort.

It is written in plain language and rather succinctly.

Having a decision like this signals that in future cases, Canadian courts hopefully will not have to grapple with the first hurdle of addressing climate change and the science behind it.