Sunday, July 26, 2015

Are Countries Obligated to Fend Off Climate Change?

The Hague, the seat of government in the Netherlands, and the capital city of the province of South Holland. (Credit: Tom Roeleveld/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
On June 24, 2015, a court in The Hague ordered the Dutch government to act faster in its duty to protect its citizens against the effects of climate change.  This marks the first time the issue has been legally declared a state obligation, regardless of arguments that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend on one country’s efforts alone.  The decision was based on various branches of law, including, most importantly, human rights.  In effect, it makes the Dutch government accountable for greenhouse gas emissions on its own territory, an outcome other countries may also need to heed.

The government, the court said, must ensure that Dutch emissions in 2020 will be at least 25 percent lower than those in 1990 — the amount the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report says is needed from industrialized countries if the world is to not exceed 2°C (3.6°F) warming and avoid the worst consequences of climate change.  Dutch political leaders had been planning to cut emissions by up to 17 percent within the next five years.

“Our case lets politicians know that they can’t let climate change happen.  They have a duty to act, be it legally or morally,” says Dennis van Berkel, legal counsel to the Urgenda Foundation, which, supported by about 900 co-plaintiffs, initiated the suit.

The Dutch, whose country lies largely below sea level, have reason to worry about climate change.  But they live in a country that has resources to adapt.  People in poorer countries, who have contributed least to climate change and are also often least well prepared to respond, are likely to suffer the most.  It’s for them that the Dutch victory is critical, says van Berkel.  “The rights of our co-plaintiffs are central, but people outside of the Netherlands will be even harder hit by climate change,” he says.  “The ruling will encourage others to appeal to human rights when it comes to climate change threats.”  Which brings up the big question:  Is the Dutch court ruling a landmark for the entire globe?

Read more at Are Countries Obligated to Fend Off Climate Change?

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