A court in the Netherlands has ordered the state to cut greenhouse gas emissions, in what has been described as a landmark ruling, setting precedent for more similar actions around the world.
The Hague District Court yesterday (Wednesday) ruled that the state also has to ensure that the Dutch emissions in the year 2020 will be at least 25% lower than those in 1990. The Dutch Urgenda Foundation had filed the suit against the government, on behalf of hundreds of ‘concerned citizens’ for not taking sufficient measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
Based on the State’s current policy, the Netherlands will achieve a reduction of 17% at most in 2020, which is below the norm of 25% to 40% for developed countries deemed necessary in climate science and international climate policy, a statement by the court reads.
Thus, the judge in his ruling said that 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: “The State is responsible for effectively controlling the Dutch emission levels. Moreover, the costs of the measures ordered by the court are not unacceptably high. Therefore, the State should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts. 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. With this order, the court has not entered the domain of politics. The court must provide legal protection, also in cases against the government, while respecting the government’s scope for policymaking. For these reasons, the court should exercise restraint and has limited therefore the reduction order to 25%, the lower limit of the 25%-40% norm.”
“All the plaintiffs are overjoyed by the result. This makes it crystal clear that climate change is a huge problem that needs to be dealt with much more effectively, and that states can no longer afford inaction. States are meant to protect their citizens, and if politicians will not do this of their own accord, then the courts are there to help,” says Urgenda director Marjan Minnesma, who in 2013 initiated this case against the Dutch State with a team of lawyers and nine hundred co-plaintiffs. “It’s all up to the State now. Luckily, sustainable solutions are ripe for the picking.”
The Dutch Urgenda Foundation has said it aims for a fast transition towards a sustainable society, with a focus on the transition towards a circular economy using only renewable energy.
Urgenda has said that this is a victory not just for Urgenda and its co-plaintiffs but also for “citizens in countries who have pending suits against their states (e.g. Belgium), or are currently preparing one (e.g. Norway).”
“Millions of people that are already suffering the consequences of climate change are hoping that we, the people that have caused the emissions and have the means to reduce them, will intervene while there is still time,” says Minnesma. “Those people can now, with our verdict in their hands, start their own climate cases.”
What about energy industry?
According to a recent study titled ‘Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854–2010’ , by Richard Heede, 63% of the CO2 and methane emitted between 1751 and 2010 was produced by only 90 entities.
Fifty are investor-owned companies such as Chevron, Peabody, Shell, and BHP Billiton. Thirty-one are state-owned companies such as Saudi Aramco and Statoil, and nine are government-run industries in countries such as China, Poland, and the former Soviet Union. The research also classified the 90 entities according to type of fossil fuel extracted and marketed.
There are 56 oil and natural gas companies, and 37 coal producers. In addition, the CO2 emissions from seven cement manufacturers are included.
According to a recent study, energy companies are the largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions (Graphic by Carbon Majors website)
Offshore Energy Today has reached out to the Netherlands-headquartered Shell, and to NOGEPA, the Dutch oil and gas association. We have asked for a comment on the potential repercussions the Hague court’s ruling might have on oil and gas operations in the Netherlands and elsewhere, should other countries decide to follow suit. We are yet to receive a response, and we will update the article should we get it.
Below is a video animation, showing ‘real-time’ carbon dioxide emissions by the energy companies in 2010. According to the description of the video, 78% of emissions in 2010 can be attributed to just 85 companies, the so called ‘Carbon Majors’