Climate Council welcomes landmark ruling after Dutch citizens sue government on emissions

The Climate Council of Australia has welcomed a landmark court ruling on greenhouse gas emissions after hundreds of Dutch citizens filed a lawsuit against the government.


Councillor Professor Will Steffen told SBS the decision would give confidence to other action groups in Europe that felt their countries were not doing enough to combat climate change.

“There has been for quite a while talk about legal approaches to tackling the climate change issue,” he said.

“This is the first time I have seen what I think is such a significant legal ruling on governments in terms of cutting their emissions.”

Related reading

A judge in The Hague said the state must “ensure that the Dutch emissions in the year 2020 will be at least 25 per cent lower than those in 1990.”

Based on current government policy, the Netherlands will achieve a reduction of 17 per cent at most in 2020, which is below the norm of 25-40 per cent for developed countries, a summary of the ruling said.

The decision was a victory for environmental group Urgenda Foundation, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of nearly 900 Dutch citizens.

“The parties agree that the severity and scope of the climate problem make it necessary to take measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” the summary said.

Australian position

Australian solicitor Sue Higginson, of  community legal centre EDO New South Wales, said the case was very ambitious and its outcome remarkable.

She said the Australian legal system was quite different from that in the Netherlands, making a case here unlikely.

“We don’t have the same words in our legal instruments as some of those European countries have,” she said.

“For example Article 21 of the Dutch Constitution provides, ‘It shall be the concern of the authorities to keep the country habitable and to protect and improve the environment.’

“Now that is a constitutional-enshrined obligation on the part of the Dutch government. So we don’t have those kind of provisions with the Australian constitution and we don’t really find those kinds of words or provisions even within our state constitutions.”

Ms Higginson said Australia’s environmental laws didn’t include such provisions either, so lawyers would have to find an alternative basis for a case.

“Our court doors are not just swinging open doors. There has to be a specific cause of action,” she said.

“So it would be really now be the challenge for good public interest creative lawyers to look for opportunities to whether in fact these avenues are there and we just haven’t discovered them yet.

“Or really, and probably more on point, our laws need to change to provide these avenues.”