Advice to the Supreme Court: Court of Appeal judgment in the climate case Urgenda can be upheld

13 september 2019

The judgment delivered by The Hague Court of Appeal requiring the Dutch State to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% compared to 1990 levels before the end of 2020 can be upheld. This is the advice of deputy Procurator General Langemeijer and Advocate General Wissink to the Supreme Court in their advisory opinion delivered today.

An important cause of rapid global warming is the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This puts life on earth in grave danger. The foundation Stichting Urgenda and the State agree that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced, but their opinions differ as to the speed at which this must be done. The State has set a target for 2020 in the EU context of a 20% reduction in emissions compared to 1990 levels. However, in view of the significant risks involved in climate change, Urgenda is of the opinion that the State may not suffice with this target. Urgenda is demanding a reduction of at least 25% in Dutch emissions by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.

The Court of Appeal concurred with Urgenda's position. According to Opinion delivered today, the Court of Appeal had sufficient points of reference in this respect.

The Court of Appeal based its opinion on the State of the Netherlands’ legal obligations to protect the life and family life of its citizens. These obligations are laid down in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

The State is disputing the existence of a rule of law that obliges it to comply with the emission reduction for 2020 as claimed. Moreover, the State is of the opinion that this is an issue that is better decided by politicians - the legislature - than by the civil courts.

Even though this subject has the attention of politicians, the Court of Appeal is of the opinion that the courts may determine the extent of the State's legal obligations in the context of human rights. The court must provide legal protection, also in cases against the government, and in doing so must apply directly effective provisions from treaties to which the Netherlands is a party. Langemeijer and Wissink deem this starting point as applied by the Court of Appeal to be correct.

For the time being, the Supreme Court judgment has been scheduled for 20 December 2019.

The Procurator General's Opinion is an independent advice given to the Supreme Court, which is free to decide whether it will follow that advice. The authors of the Opinion are members of the Procurator General's Office at the Supreme Court. This Procurator General's Office is not part of the Public Prosecution Service: it is an independent part of the judiciary in the Netherlands.

Publication on