Dutch court orders 25% cut in greenhouse gases by 2020

Netherlands government told it cannot hide behind international negotiations

in The Hague

Governments around the world face "a wave of climate litigation" and businesses will come under new pressure to reduce their emissions, following a ruling by a Dutch court yesterday that the Netherlands must cut its greenhouse gases by at least 25 per cent by 2020.

The decision was described as “unprecedented” because it is the first time a government has been told that it cannot hide behind international negotiations aimed at reducing harmful emissions – but has an independent legal obligation to safeguard its own citizens.

"The verdict is a milestone in the history of climate legislation because it is the first time that a government has been ordered by a court to raise its climate ambition," said Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network Europe.


"We hope this will be replicated in Europe and around the world."

Dr Bill Hare, senior scientist at Climate Analytics, a non-profit consultancy based in Berlin, agreed the impact of the ruling could be "massive", saying it had "the potential to become a precedent that will ultimately flow through to undermining the markets for coal, oil and gas." Based on current government policy, the Netherlands will achieve a reduction of 17 per cent at most by 2020 – well below the norm of 25 per cent to 40 per cent deemed necessary for developed countries by climate science and international climate policy.

On that basis, said Judge Hans Hofhuis, the state had an obligation to ensure "Dutch emissions in the year 2020 will be at least 25 per cent lower than those in 1990" as its contribution towards alleviating the impact of climate change, such as heat waves, floods and rising sea levels.

“The state should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts,” the judge said.

“Any reduction in emissions contributes to the prevention of dangerous climate change – and as a developed country, the Netherlands should take the lead in this.”

The case was brought under human rights legislation by the sustainability foundation, Urgenda, whose legal counsel, Dennis van Berkel, said afterwards: "Before this judgment, the only legal obligations on states were those agreed among themselves in international treaties."

The Dutch business organisation, VNO-NCW, had still not commented on its implications last night.

However, experts said that the Dutch decision was unlikely to affect prices on the EU’s emission trading system, which aims to cut gases by forcing more than 11,000 power generators, airlines and manufacturers in 31 countries to surrender a carbon allowance for every tonne they emit.

"The Netherlands alone is a relatively small emitter," said analyst Emil Dimantchev.

“And, although the ruling is important, if it is appealed the procedure could last years.”

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court