A Dutch appeals court has upheld a landmark ruling that ordered the government to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020 from benchmark 1990 levels.
The original June 2015 ruling came in a case brought by the environmental group Urgenda on behalf of 900 Dutch citizens.
Similar cases are under way in several countries around the world.
Cheers and applause rang around the packed courtroom as Hague Appeals Court presiding judge Marie-Anne Tan-de Sonnaville rejected the government’s appeal.
The court said the government is under a legal obligation to take measures to protect its citizens against dangerous climate change.
Since the original judgment, a new Dutch government has pledged to reduce emissions by 49% by 2030.
“Considering the great dangers that are likely to occur, more ambitious measures have to be taken in the short term to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to protect the life and family life of citizens in the Netherlands,” the court said in a statement.
The ruling came a day after the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued an urgent report saying that preventing just an extra single degree of heat in the Earth’s climate could make a life-or-death difference in the next few decades for multitudes of people and ecosystems.
Marjan Minnesma of Urgenda hailed the Dutch ruling as a significant victory that will boost similar legal initiatives elsewhere in the world.
“We won on every single point. And it was a very good explanation of the urgency of what is necessary and that states in industrial countries should do between a 25%-40% CO2 reduction,” she said after the ruling.
“The court also said maybe 40% is necessary but in this case we only asked for 25% so they didn’t make a judgment on that. But they clearly said that climate change is a very urgent problem with enormous risks so the state should do at least the minimum.”
Urgenda argues that the government — and other countries — need to do more sooner than 2030 to prevent serious consequences of climate change.
Ms Minnesma had a few suggestions for legislators, such as lowering maximum speeds on some roads and shutting down coal-fired power stations.
The government appealed against the original ruling, saying it effectively meant a court was formulating government policy, but the court rejected that argument, saying judges must uphold international treaties such as the European human rights convention to which the Netherlands is a party.
In a statement following Tuesday’s decision, the government said it would study the ruling “with an eye on possible further appeal”, but at the same time pledged to carry out the court’s order.
It said a recent assessment suggested that the target of a 25% reduction of emissions by 2020 “is within reach”.
The UN panel on climate change said Earth’s weather, health and ecosystems would be in better shape if world leaders could limit future human-caused global warming to just 0.5C from now, instead of the globally agreed goal of 1C.
To limit warming to the lower temperature goal, the world needs “rapid and far-reaching” changes in energy systems, land use, city and industrial design, transportation and building use, the report said.
Annual carbon dioxide pollution levels would have to drop by about half by 2030 and then be near zero by 2050.