Two legal cases made waves yesterday. One in the Netherlands, the other in Berlin. They might not be directly linked but both decisions show how vital justice has become in order to compensate the absence of national leadership on climate change and air pollution.
On Tuesday, The Hague Court of Appeal affirmed that the Dutch government must reduce emissions by at least 25% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. Failure would be a violation of the rights of Dutch citizens as protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, the judgement said.
This decision followed the one adopted last August by the European Court of justice to hear a case brought by litigants from Portugal, Germany, France, Italy, Romania, Kenya, Fiji, and the Swedish Sami Youth Association Sáminuorra against the European Union for alleged failure to adopt effective laws to tackle climate change.
The legal complaint asserts that the EU’s existing climate target to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, does not protect their fundamental rights of life, health, occupation and property.
The plaintiffs, who are not seeking compensation for their loss, are asking the court to declare the three acts null and void, “since they violate the plaintiff’s rights and are not in line with higher ranking law» their lawyer Roda Verheyen explained to EURACTIV.
Hundreds of kilometres away from The Hague, a court in Berlin decided that the German capital has to ban diesel cars in 11 of the city’s busiest streets by the 31 March 2019. On the same day, Germany managed to lobby its national counterparts in the EU Council to adopt a watered-down position on car CO2 cuts for 2030.
This decision follows similar bans of diesel cars in the cities of Hamburg, Stuttgart and Frankfurt, which they also have to implement.
These legal actions were brought by the German NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe. By so doing, this civil organisation is compelling the German government to act in order to improve air quality in Germany – and the health of its citizens.
And to finally start loosening up the ties between the German political sphere and the national car industry, which are notoriously extremely tight.
These two decisions are by no means extraordinary. Indeed, they are only the latest of a series that shows how legal pressure is mounting on governments to finally act on climate change and air pollution.
Already, the financial community is being sensitive to this new environment. Philippe Desfossé, chief executive officer of the pension fund ERAFP, the additional retirement pension for French civil servants worth €30 billion euros, recently told EURACTIV that investors increasingly have to take into account the legal risks associated with global warming.
And this risk is yet to increase even further: the two decisions come the day after the UN’s climate science body IPCC found limiting warming to 1.5C, compared to 2C, would spare a vast sweep of people and life on earth from devastating impacts.
To hold warming to this limit, the scientists said unequivocally that carbon pollution must fall to ‘net zero’ in around three decades: a huge and immediate transformation, for which governments have shown little inclination so far.
But Roda Verheyen knows how useful the 1.5°C report is: she plans to use it to sue governments.
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