The Dutch Ruling On Climate Change That Could Have A Global Impact

The Dutch Ruling On Climate Change That Could Have A Global Impact

1:52pm Jun 27, 2015
Dennis van Berkel, an attorney with the Dutch environmental group Urgenda, stands on an earthen berm on the outskirts of Amsterdam. The water is higher than the land on the other side of the berm. A Dutch court ruled in favor of Urgenda on Wednesday, sayi
Dennis van Berkel, an attorney with the Dutch environmental group Urgenda, stands on an earthen berm on the outskirts of Amsterdam. The water is higher than the land on the other side of the berm. A Dutch court ruled in favor of Urgenda on Wednesday, sayi
Ari Shapiro / NPR
  • Dennis van Berkel, an attorney with the Dutch environmental group Urgenda, stands on an earthen berm on the outskirts of Amsterdam. The water is higher than the land on the other side of the berm. A Dutch court ruled in favor of Urgenda on Wednesday, sayi

    Dennis van Berkel, an attorney with the Dutch environmental group Urgenda, stands on an earthen berm on the outskirts of Amsterdam. The water is higher than the land on the other side of the berm. A Dutch court ruled in favor of Urgenda on Wednesday, sayi

    Ari Shapiro / NPR

  • Much of the Netherlands is below sea level, including Amsterdam. Urgenda argues that any rise in the sea level could have a huge impact on the country.

    Much of the Netherlands is below sea level, including Amsterdam. Urgenda argues that any rise in the sea level could have a huge impact on the country.

    Ari Shapiro / NPR

In a ruling that could echo far beyond the Netherlands, a Dutch court has sided with an environmental group and said the government must cut carbon emissions by 25 percent in five years in order to protect the country's citizens.

Many other environmental groups and governments have paid close attention to the Dutch case, and there are similar ones in the works in other countries, including Belgium and Norway.

"The state should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts," the judges said in their ruling. "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."

When I visited Amsterdam in April, environmental lawyer Dennis van Berkel took me to the outskirts of the city to talk about the lawsuit filed by his group, Urgenda, against the Dutch government.

We walked up an earthen berm. Water lapped on one side, land spread out on the other. From that vantage point, you can see that the Netherlands sits below sea level.

Van Berkel told me he worries that rising sea levels caused by global warming could threaten his country's future.

"What this place reminds me of is that for the Netherlands really on the long run, climate change is sort of an almost existential issue," he said.

I reached him by phone on Wednesday, shortly after he learned that Urgenda had won its case.

"I'm extremely happy," he said with a laugh.

A court ordered the Dutch government to cut carbon emissions by 25 percent over the next five years. It had been aiming to cut them by 15 percent.

The Dutch government says it is studying the ruling.

No court in the world has ever directly ordered a government to cut carbon emissions, and this could have implications far beyond the Netherlands.

From the beginning, Urgenda put all its legal documents online, translated them into English and encouraged groups from other countries to use its work.

"In other countries, people can also now address their governments on this basis that they won't just do what they politically wish to accomplish, but what is actually necessary according to science," van Berkel said.

A group in Belgium has already filed a similar suit. Norway has one in the works. This has the potential to be a, well, sea change for environmentalists.

"It's a sea change if other courts follow the lead of the Dutch court," said Michael Gerrard, who directs the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. "It's sort of a break in the dike, appropriate coming from the Netherlands. And we'll see how big the flow is that follows from it."

In the U.S., the Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit like this one. But Gerrard said other major countries like India have legal systems more likely to to rule in favor of the environmentalists. And if this does catch on, he said, it could become an entirely new front for addressing climate change.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

An environmental group pushing for lower carbon emissions - nothing new there. But one group in the Netherlands took it a step further and went to court, trying to force the Dutch government to cut carbon emissions in the country, and the group won. This could have a pretty big impact elsewhere, as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: When I visited Amsterdam in April, a lawyer named Dennis Van Berkel took me to the outskirts of town to talk about his group's lawsuit against the Dutch government. We walked up an earthen berm. Water lapped on one side, land spread out on the other. And from that vantage point, you could see that the Netherlands sits below sea level. Van Berkel told me he worries that rising sea levels caused by global warming could threaten his country's future.

DENNIS VAN BERKEL: What this place reminds me of is that, for the Netherlands, really, in the long run, climate change is sort of an almost existential issue.

SHAPIRO: Van Berkel's environmental group is called Urgenda. Yesterday, I reached him by phone moments after he learned that Urgenda has won its case.

VAN BERKEL: This is (laughter), well, I am extremely happy.

SHAPIRO: A court ordered the Dutch government to protect its citizens by cutting carbon emissions by 25 percent over the next five years. It had been on track to cut 15 percent. The Dutch government says it is studying the ruling. No court in the world has ever directly ordered a government to cut carbon emissions, and this could have implications far beyond the Netherlands. From the beginning, Urgenda put all its legal documents online, translated them into English and encouraged groups from other countries to steal their work.

VAN BERKEL: In other countries, people can also now address their governments on this basis that they won't just do what they politically wish to accomplish, but what is actually necessary according to science.

SHAPIRO: A group in Belgium has already filed a similar suit. Norway has one in the works. This has the potential to be (clearing throat) a sea change for environmentalists.

VAN BERKEL: It's a sea change if other courts follow the lead of the Dutch court.

SHAPIRO: Michael Gerrard directs the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia, and - because you can never have too many climate-change puns first thing in the morning...

MICHAEL GERRARD: It's sort of a break in the dike - appropriate coming from the Netherlands - and we'll see how big the flow is that follows from it.

SHAPIRO: In the U.S., the Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit like this one, but Gerrard says other major countries, like India, have legal systems likelier to rule in the environmentalists' favor. And if this does catch on, he says, it could become an entirely new front for addressing climate change. Ari Shapiro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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