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Dutch court rules that government must help stop climate change

Appeals court upholds earlier ruling that the government is accountable for efforts to combat global warming.

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A campaigner and a lawyer hug as they and other campaigners celebrate the court's ruling at the Hague

Citizens celebrating their court victory over government.Credit: Chantal Bekker/GraphicAlert/Urgenda Foundation

A court of appeal in The Hague has upheld a precedent-setting judgment that forces the Dutch government to step up its efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions in the Netherlands.

In 2015, a district court in The Hague had ruled in favour of the Urgenda Foundation, a Dutch citizens' climate-change group that filed the lawsuit on behalf of 886 plaintiffs.

The foundation asked for more-stringent government action to protect the low-lying country from the harmful effects of climate change. The government appealed against the verdict, arguing that courts have no right to take decisions on this matter.

The appeal judges disagreed. On 8 October, the court of appeals confirmed that the government must take measures to cut domestic greenhouse-gas emissions to at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020.

The Netherlands has pledged to reduce emissions by 49% by 2030, but has so far achieved only a 13% drop from 1990 levels. The court cites the state’s legal duty of care for its citizens, which is enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.

The ruling coincides with a landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change outlining the drastic global action required to stabilize Earth’s climate at a safe level.

And similar court cases are now ongoing in several countries, including the United States, Belgium, Norway and Ireland.

“Climate litigation has become a powerful tool in holding decision-makers accountable for climate inaction,” says James Thornton, the London-based chief executive of ClientEarth, an international group of environmental lawyers. “This is the climate case that started it all, inspiring similar lawsuits worldwide.”

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-07007-7
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