In 2013, the Dutch Urgenda Foundation filed a case against the government for its climate inaction, holding the state accountable to ensure the protection of the (family) life of citizens. By 2020, the government must therefore cut emissions by 25% from 1990 levels. The Dutch state appealed the verdict and lost in October last year. The government must therefore achieve higher reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the short term.
What does this mean?
It remains to be seen whether the state will succeed in reaching the 25% reduction. A Dutch planning bureau (PBL) expects the 25% goal to be unfeasible. Furthermore, the debate on the national climate agreement is dividing the government’s coalition and has not led to concrete climate measures. However, the case shows how climate change has become thoroughly political, as the government is divided and tension between the state and its citizens are rising. The Urgenda case is both unusual and successful in framing climate change as a human rights issue. As citizens are starting to experience the effects of climate change and understand what climate change would mean for their children and grandchildren, they will increasingly demand that those in power take action. Governments are facing a complex task of taking action without enforcing changes on those who are most vulnerable, as the Yellow Vests showed French President Emmanuel Macron that citizens won’t simply comply with tax increases on gasoline.
As awareness on climate issues grows, we will further see citizens coming into action, not only through protest, but also through successful legal initiatives, creating a push for governments to come up with concrete climate policies. Already, the story of Urgenda has driven citizens all over the world to hold their governments accountable for climate inaction and it has kick-started similar lawsuits in other countries, such as Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Pakistan, Switzerland, and the U.S. Furthermore, more so than with other political issues, younger generations are uniting in climate politics and activism, with millennial congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and 16-year old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg as leading faces.