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Dutch citizens sue their government for not acting on climate change

Staff writer |
Nearly 900 Dutch citizens have filed a lawsuit against their government for failing to effectively cut greenhouse gas emissions and curb climate change.

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Hailed by Dutch press as a "landmark legal case," it’s the first European example of a group of citizens attempting to hold a government responsible for inefficient climate policies, and the first time that existing human rights laws have been the basis of a case.

The plaintiffs will ask the court to force the Dutch government to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by between 25 and 40 percent relative to their 1990 levels by 2020 — reductions that the IPCC has said developed nations must make if the world wants a 50 percent chance of avoiding a 2 degree Celsius increase in global temperature.

Currently, the European Union has committed to reducing its emissions 40 percent by 2030, but the Netherlands has not made any specific commitments, saying instead that it intends to adopt any international agreement that comes from the Paris climate talks later this year.

To the Dutch citizens who are part of the class action, that promise isn’t enough. In 2012, the sustainability-focused Urgenda Foundation sent a letter to the government demanding more immediate action on climate change.

When they received no response, Urgenda began looking for citizens to support a court case against the Dutch government. A year later, Urgenda, along with nearly 900 co-plaintiffs, filed a case against the Dutch government.

The plaintiffs represent a wide cross-section of Dutch society, hailing from a diverse set of age groups and professions. One of the more notable plaintiffs, Joos Ockels, is the wife of Wubbo Ockels, the first Dutch citizen in space and a committed climate advocate until his death last year.

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