The revolutionary Dutch climate case
Di Flavia Tambuzzo – The case was about a litigation between ‘Urgenda Foundation’, an organisation set in Amsterdam which works on the renewable energy field, and the Dutch government. The former, together with 886 individual citizens, started legal proceedings, claiming that the latter was legally bound to take action in order to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. On the other hand, the Netherlands claimed that such duty had no legal basis, and that these matters had to be considered political instead of legal affairs.
The end of the dispute saw the victory of the claimants. The final verdict issued by the District Court of The Hague stated that the Dutch government was required to reduce its emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020 (compared to 1990 levels). According to the Court, the duty of taking direct and immediate action against climate change is embedded among the States’ obligations towards its citizens, as its violation may lead to increasing levels of global warming, threatening the environment and contributing to human rights violations.
This verdict highlights how much the environmental issue is important for Dutch citizens. Indeed, the Netherlands have always been one of the countries leading sustainable solutions and promoting the safeguard of the environment.
As climate changes could pose a significant threat, especially concerning sea-level rise, this country has spent considerable resources in developing new strategies and mantaining high standards. For instance, since the 1990 it has considerably reduced the emission of hazardous substances such as sulfur dioxide, ammonia and volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere. Then, it has lessen the concentrations of air pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide, which have reached very low levels in most areas of the country. Furthermore, it has improved the quality of water both chemically and ecologically, and its well-known established policies have contributed to the prevention against flooding in high-risk areas.
The path towards a green conversion is challenging, as ambitious targets require not only a strong emphasis on international cooperation, but also the adoption of different, modern and long-term oriented strategies. For example, the quality of air and noise nuisance are two interesting fields which the Netherlands has started to deal with, by signing agreements at European, national, or local level, installing car-free urban areas, and promoting the use of zero emission transports like bikes through investments in efficient green infrastructures like cycle paths.
Moreover, the country has signed the ‘Energy Agreement for Sustainable Growth’, whose aim is to achieve a complete sustainable energy supply system by 2050, through the improvment of more energy-efficient technologies and the employment of renewables, in order to contribute to future economic sustainable growth.
Last but not least, the Netherlands have high levels of knowledge and expetise in the fields of sustainable-built environment, in the bio-based sector and in developping mechanisms which favour circular economy. This occurs through financial incentives promoted by the government, and by removing legal obstructions to sustainability.
What about the efforts pursued at the international level concerning climate change? The Paris Agreement of 2015 has definitely been the most significant achievement in this field, as it sets legally binding goals (by limiting the temperature increase to 2°C and, if possible to 1.5 C°) in order to reduce the negative impacts of climate change and to achieve sustainable development. The agreement has been signed by 193 countries and ratified by 115 parties, including the European Union, United States, China and India, which are among the main greenhouse gas emitters. Overall, it is clear that the implementation of this ambitious agreement will require strong coordination and cooperation among countries, especially between developed and developing ones.
According to NASA reports, 2016 has been the warmest year since the beginning of recordings in 1880. The global average of temperatures was 1.78 degrees Fahrenheit (0.99 degrees Celsius). The risks related to higher temperatures such as sea-levels rise, glaciers shrinking, floodings and climate change can negatively affect living conditions of many areas world-wide and produce several implications in terms of migration, safety concerns and human rights violations. In order to avoid this scenario, States must adopt efficient long-term measures and implement common solutions which foster sustainability, development and good environmental practices. May the successful verdict in the Netherlands be a good starting point for future positive developments in other countries.