The Dutch government was on Tuesday ordered by a court to speed up its cutting of GHG emissions in a landmark verdict that could lead the country to buy more UN carbon credits and lead to similar lawsuits across the industrialised world.
A Dutch district court in The Hague ruled the government needed to cut emissions 25% under 1990 levels by 2020, up from its current 17% target. It is the first time a state has been held responsible for climate change action under human rights law.
The case was brought by 900 citizens and green group Urgenda. Other similar cases are in the pipeline in Belgium and Norway.
“The state must do more to avert the imminent danger caused by climate change, also in view of its duty of care to protect and improve the living environment … (It) should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts,” the ruling said.
“Any reduction of emissions contributes to the prevention of dangerous climate change and as a developed country the Netherlands should take the lead in this,” it said.
The Dutch government will study the ruling, said Wilma Mansveld, state secretary for the environment, in a statement cited by Dutch press agency ANP.
“We hope this kind of legal action will be replicated in Europe and around the world, pushing governments who are dragging their feet on climate action to scale up their efforts. At the same time, the task specified by the ruling is not too challenging. The target should be much higher than 25% in order to be truly in line with what is needed to tackle climate change,” said Wendel Trio, director of green group coalition Climate Action Network Europe.
The ruling said the norm for developed countries was a 25-40% emission reduction by 2020, a level that few industrialised nations are on course to meet. It could potentially put countries on the hook for future legal cases if the verdict is made binding following a likely process of appeals that could last years.
“This historic ruling will have far reaching consequences in the Netherlands, EU & rest of the world,” said senior Dutch MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, who tabled formal question to the European Commission asking it to investigate the consequences of the ruling on European climate policy.
If the Netherlands government abides by the verdict, it may resume buying of UN-backed carbon credits, a relatively cheap and simple way for it to meet a higher target given the limited time to implement new policies before 2020.
Valued at around €0.40 each, some 578,000 CERs changed hands on ICE on Wednesday, one of the busiest days for trade in the UN-backed units this year.
The Dutch government bought around 75 million UN units to help it meet its -6% emission target under first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008-2012).
But it stopped buying in 2012 as it was clear that goal had been met, as industrial output slumped after the global economic downturn and led to lower-than-expected emissions.
The purchase programme left the Dutch government with far more credits than it needed, but it is unclear whether these units could still be used to meet current goals.
EU rules forbid the use of units generated during the first Kyoto period after March 2015 for companies regulated under the EU ETS.
Any CERs generated under the first Kyoto commitment period and held in government accounts without being carried over to the next period will be automatically cancelled after the end of Kyoto’s true-up period on Nov. 18 2015.
By Ben Garside – firstname.lastname@example.org