They know a thing or two about wind power! Photo: Siebe Schootstra, Creative Commons license 2.0

The Supreme Court of the Netherlands ruled on Friday that the country's government must sharply cut national carbon emissions by the end of 2020, the first time a nation's courts have demanded such specific action on climate. The ruling mandates a reduction in greenhouse gases to 25 percent of 1990 levels.

Because of climate change, "the lives, well being and living circumstances of many people around the world, including in the Netherlands, are being threatened," Kees Streefkerk, the chief justice, said in the decision. "Those consequences are happening already."

The Dutch government has already committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, though its environmental agency estimates the planned cuts would come to 19 to 25 percent of 1990 levels. Now the higher end of that target is the minimum that must be met. That could require the complete closure of coal-fired power plants, including some opened in the last decade. GOOD.

And here's an advantage that this and other lawsuits against European national governments have: The group that filed the lawsuit, the Urgenda Foundation, based some of its arguments in human rights laws. Pity the US no longer considers those relevant!


The (Netherlands) Supreme Court decision upheld a 2015 order from the Hague District Court (which despite the city, is not the UN war crimes court, pay attention) requiring the 25 percent cuts within five years. Urgenda had sued requesting cuts of up to 40 percent from 1990 emissions levels.

That original court ruling, the New York Times reports,

stated that the possibility of damages to current and future generations was so great and concrete that, given its duty of care, "the state must make an adequate contribution, greater than its current contribution, to prevent hazardous climate change."

An appeals court in 2018 upheld that decision, too.

In that case, the court, citing obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, stated that the government was "acting unlawfully" by not taking stronger action to reduce emissions, and that "a reduction obligation of at least 25 percent by end-2020, as ordered by the district court, is in line with the State's duty of care."

In Friday's decision, Justice Streefkerk explicitly rejected the whataboutism of arguments that any one country's efforts to reduce greenhouse pollution are dwarfed by emissions from other countries, stating that merely being one smallish European nation didn't absolve the Netherlands of responsibility to clean up its act: "Every country is responsible for its share."

Urgenda attorney Dennis van Berkel told the Times this case has big implications beyond the Netherlands:

"These human rights, they're not unique to the Netherlands," he said. "We think and expect that other lawyers and courts will be looking at this judgment for inspiration about how to deal with this issue."

The Dutch case has already inspired similar suits against national governments in Europe — including in Belgium, France, Ireland, Germany, New Zealand, Britain, Switzerland and Norway — and from plaintiffs around the world against the European Union, part of a larger trend of citizens seeking action from the courts on climate issues.

[Update: Yeah, the Times included "New Zealand" in that list of national governments in "Europe." FOR ONCE IT'S NOT ME BEING GEOGRAPHICALLY CONFUSED.]

In US America, lawsuits have had some effect on climate policy; a 2007 Supreme Court case established that the EPA has the power to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as pollutants. That decision, however, which informed much of Barack Obama's attempts to get carbon emissions under control, has been targeted for elimination by rightwing legal groups; with Donald Trump appointing pro-industry creeps to federal courts, Crom only knows how long it will hold.

Even so, similar human rights-based lawsuits by young people are slowly moving through US courts, the Times notes.

A federal suit on behalf of young people awaits trial in Oregon after a labyrinthine path of pretrial filings and appeals that have reached the Supreme Court twice already.

We'll close with this bit, which ought to give you a warm, carbon-neutral smile for the holiday:

One of the plaintiffs in the case, Damian Rau, was 12 years old when the case was first filed. In a statement from Urgenda, he called the judgment "an example to the world that no one is powerless and everybody can make a difference."

The kids aren't merely all right, they seem bent on making sure we all are. Fire up the Yule Solar Panel and raise a glass to the kids. And get behind them like a regular Jane Fonda!

[NYT / Photo: "Windmolen" by Siebe Schootstra, Creative Commons license 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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