Why we're taking the Dutch government to court for failing its citizens on climate

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Going to court was not a decision that we took lightly. But if governments continue to ignore their commitments to act, we will continue to hold their feet to the fire

On Monday 28 May, hundreds of Dutch citizens and my organisation, Urgenda, will be in court to protect an historic climate change judgment we won in 2015 against the Dutch Government.

The decision of the Hague District Court, which required the Government to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent by the end of 2020 compared to 1990 levels, was hailed as a major breakthrough.

It came after years of international climate talks that have failed to produce the action needed to protect the planet. 

The Dutch Government’s decision to contest the judgment comes at a time when the EU  has signalled it will step up its climate leadership.

Within the region, the Netherlands has positioned itself as a frontrunner by setting an emissions reduction target of 49 percent by 2030, which goes beyond the target set by the EU.

However, Dutch emissions are barely moving in the right direction—in 2017, emissions were only down by 13 percent and reductions have stagnated in the past five years. This is more proof that there is an ongoing disconnect between rhetoric and action.

The gap between the promises made by Governments and their actions is exactly why Urgenda and 886 Dutch citizens initially turned to the court in 2012.

The judgment of the District Court, which drew on commitments made by the Government in UN climate talks, was vindication of our belief that there must be accountability for these promises.

Those commitments have only become more stringent since our case was heard—most recently, in the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement, governments agreed to limit warming to well below 2C and to aim for 1.5C. This requires an even greater degree of action than the District Court ordered.

The outlook for the planet today is dire: in the absence of concrete and faster action, global warming is expected to exceed 4°C by the end of the century—a scenario that would be catastrophic for all of us.

Developing countries are also waiting for developed countries to hold up their end of the bargain and ramp up climate action before 2020.

The stakes could not be higher, which is why our victory in court has been followed by similar climate cases filed against the Governments of Belgium, Ireland, the UK, Switzerland, New Zealand and the USA.

As former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres stated, the Hague District Court’s judgment "recognises the critical importance of early action on climate change. It affirmed that the costs of deferring emissions reductions are unacceptably high and that the actions of governments in the next few years will determine whether or not we are able to avoid the worst impacts of climate change".

Going to court was not a decision that we took lightly. But if governments continue to ignore their commitments to act and their duties to us and to the planet, we will continue to hold their feet to the fire.

Marjan Minnesma is founder and director of Urgenda, a leading NGO for innovation and sustainability.