The Dutch Government Faces Legal Action
For Its Failure To Address Climate Crisis
16 November, 2012
The Dutch government is facing the threat of legal action if it fails to take swift steps related to climate crisis*. Urgenda, a pressure group has initiated the process.
It’s hoped that the initiative will encourage similar steps in other countries also. Probably this is for the first time that European human rights legislation has been used to take a government to court over its failure to address climate crisis.
The initiative is intended to put the spotlight on what campaigners say is a lack of action and force them to prioritize cuts in GHG emissions.
Urgenda has sent a letter to ministers calling on them to announce new initiatives on cutting emissions. Without the new initiatives, Urgenda said, it would proceed to the courts. The government has not yet responded.
The Dutch campaigners believe similar laws could be used in other countries to force the hand of governments. Marjan Minnesma, of Urgenda, and one of the leaders of the action, said: "We definitely want to give a strong example to other countries. We believe we can take this to the courts and we would like organizations in other countries to look at what we are doing and consider it for themselves."
The campaign is supported by the NASA climate scientist Prof James Hansen. "In the climate and energy debate we need more pressure and involvement from the public, willing to defend our rights and those of our children and grandchildren using all the means of our laws to achieve justice," he said.
The move on November 14, 2012 came as governments prepared to meet for the next round of United Nations negotiations on climate change, to start at the end of this month in Doha, Qatar.
This year marks the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto protocol, and some governments – including the EU and Australia, but not the US, Japan or Canada – are expected to sign up to a continuation to 2020, with fresh commitments to cut emissions.
For years, the Netherlands were seen as an environmentally conscious nation who was among the first to treat global warming as a serious threat. As a large part of the country lies below sea level, Dutch people have been particularly conscious of the damage that could be done by sea level rises, and from the heavier rainfall and fiercer storm surges that are predicted to result from climate change.
But campaigners say this has changed in the past decade, with the government less willing to talk about climate change and emissions, and a greater focus on the resurgent oil and gas industries.
Minnesma said the performance of the Dutch government on climate issues in recent years had been "disappointing". She accused ministers of failing to take a lead, especially at international climate talks and in developing renewable energy.
Roger Cox, a partner at the law firm of Paulussen Advocaten in the Netherlands who is involved with the legal move, says that the scale of inaction by governments means that pursuing the legal route is justified. "Averting dangerous climate change has become all but impossible, putting western countries at serious risk of committing human right violations on a scale nobody had thought to ever see again after world war two," he wrote in a comment piece for the Guardian. "This leaves the judiciary with the task of stepping in and averting catastrophe. In a democracy, issues certainly stop being only political when they give rise to domestic human rights violations and endangerment."
* guardian.co.uk, Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent, “Dutch government may face legal action over climate change”, Nov. 14, 2012 http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/nov/14/dutch-legal-action-climate-change
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