Marjan Minnesma, director of environmental group Urgenda Foundation hopes the Dutch Supreme Court upholds the historic climate verdictMarjan Minnesma, director of the Urgenda Foundation, awaits the Dutch government's final appeal in the historic verdict ordering the country to reduce emissions as promised. Photo credit: Jerry Lampen/AFP/Getty Images

By Dana Drugmand

Two independent judicial officials in the Netherlands have advised the Dutch Supreme Court to uphold a groundbreaking ruling in the case Urgenda v. The Netherlands that requires the government to more aggressively cut the country’s emissions. 

The formal opinion, issued Friday, came from the Advocate General and Procurator General, independent positions inside the country’s judiciary system. It backed lower court rulings in the case, initially by the District Court of The Hague in 2015 and reaffirmed by the Court of Appeal last October. That ruling said the Dutch government has a legal duty to strengthen its emissions reduction target for 2020. Per court order, the government must cut emissions by at least 25 percent below 1990 levels – a target that the government is currently not on track to meet. As of 2018, emissions have been reduced only 15 percent below 1990 levels, according to the Netherlands’ national bureau for statistics.

The Advocate General and Procurator General provide formal advisory opinions to the Supreme Court, which can decide whether to follow their advice. The Supreme Court is scheduled to announce its decision in the case on Dec. 20. 

“We are humbled and extremely happy with this positive advice,” Marjan Minnesma, director of the foundation Urgenda Foundation, which brought the lawsuit, said in a statement. “The Government has known since 2015 that it has a legal obligation to significantly reduce Dutch emissions. It has had four years to fulfill that obligation. With this positive advice today, the Government is left with even fewer excuses not to take more action to lower its emissions.”

The victory by Urgenda in the 2015 decision marked the first time a court anywhere in the world has required a country to take more stringent climate action. The Dutch government said it would implement the judgment, but it is so far failing to do so as it has continued to bring appeals

According to the opinion of the two judicial advisors, the Court of Appeal was correct in deciding that courts can determine the extent of the government’s legal obligations in the context of human rights. The government argued it has no legal obligation to comply with a stricter emissions reduction target, but the appeals court disagreed and pointed to human rights obligations outlined in treaties like the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. 

Urgenda, along with 700 other stakeholders, has outlined 40 measures the government can still take to meet the 25 percent by 2020 target. “If the Government keeps ignoring these calls, it will be in serious danger of flouting the rule of law by disregarding the orders of its own courts,” Minnesma said

If the Supreme Court decides in Urgenda’s favor, there would be no further avenue for the government to appeal. 

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