While it might seem like a strange time for a government to start making new climate commitments, the Netherlands had little choice. A court case brought by environmental groups in 2014 and upheld by the supreme court last year has forced the government to act to reduce emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by the end of 2020 at the latest. It is climate action under extreme duress.
There are more than 1,500 climate lawsuits either complete or ongoing in the world, including similar cases in Ireland and Norway, but this is by far the most successful to date. Michael Gerrard, the director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, says the Dutch case is the “strongest climate change decision ever issued by a court” and the only one that has forced government policy.
The consequences of this are huge. It shows that people can hold governments accountable if they are not achieving the climate targets they set forth.
Marjan Minnesma, the head of the Urgenda Foundation, which filed the initial legal challenge, says the policies are “a great victory for the rule of law” but points out that Urgenda won its initial case in a district court in The Hague in June 2015. Two appeals from the government caused the case to go on five years, which is a whole lot of wasted time—a precious commodity in the climate crisis.
The good news, however, is that the Netherlands is shifting course. Last month the Dutch government announced a bold set of climate policies designed to reduce annual carbon emissions by nearly 10 megatons, comparable to the yearly output of Latvia. Additionally, several new coal power plants are set to be closed while a €3bn spending package will subsidize renewable energy projects and home refits.