In a sweeping victory for Dutch environmental activists that could have global repercussions, a court ordered the government today to cut the country's greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020. The ruling by The Hague District Court could lay the foundations for similar cases around the world, said the director of the organization that took the government to court on behalf of 900 Dutch citizens. The plaintiffs argued—and the court agreed—that the government has a legal obligation to protect its people against looming dangers, including the effects of climate change on this low-lying country, much of which is below sea level and vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by global warming.
Dutch government lawyers swiftly left the courtroom after the judgment and could not immediately be reached for comment. The court said, based on current government climate policy, the Netherlands will cut its emissions by only 17% by 2020, compared with benchmark 1990 levels. The Dutch government can appeal the ruling to a higher court. It remains unclear exactly how the court can enforce its ruling. It has the power to impose fines for failure to carry out its orders, but never uses such powers against the government and Urgenda, the group that filed the case, did not request such a move, said judge Peter Blok. What one Urgenda worker had to say after Judge Hans Hofhuis read the ruling: "A courageous judge. This is fantastic. This is for my children and grandchildren." (Read more Netherlands stories.)