September 19, 2016

The Dutch Sued their own Government Over Climate Change Inaction & Here’s what Happened.

dutch citizens sue govt

I found the news devilishly exciting: This was citizen activism and environmental advocacy at its finest!

Defining a new leading edge for climate change litigation, which put the power for positive action and sustainable change, back into the hands of the people.

In late June, 2015, in a landmark case, a legal court in the Netherlands ruled that government plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17%, compared to 1990 levels, would not be enough to meet demands to stem temperatures from increasing beyond the 2˚C safe zone, to mitigate threats posed by climate change.

Like many, I was gob-smacked to hear that the Dutch government then exercised their right to appeal…potentially stalling serious action for another 2-3 years.[5]

Meanwhile, just over a year later, NASA has confirmed: July 2016 was the world’s hottest month since records began in 1880. [6]

In fact, it’s the hottest in a spate of especially hot months, going back to May 2015. [7]

Each in the vicinity of 1˚C hotter than average. [8] “The scary thing, is that we are moving into an era where it will be a surprise when each new month or year isn’t one of the hottest on record,” said climate scientist, Chris Field, of the Carnegie Institution and Stanford University.[9]

gavin schmidt line graph

Image Credit: Gavin Schmidt

Climate change scientist, Gavin Schmidt, expects July 2016 to be the last record-breaking month for the year, as residual heat from an unusually intense El Nino, dissipates.

In the Climate Change Summit in Paris, December, last year, leaders and delegates put together a global agreement to limit the rise in average global temperatures to below 2°C, with 1.5°C being the ideal target.[11] According to this, though, we’ve already crossed the 1.5˚ turning point and now need to pull our weight in every possible way, to keep temperatures below a 2˚C rise.

I’m feeling at a loss as to how we’re going to make a significant enough difference to this whole thing. I feel frustrated, powerless and annoyed at the human race for being self-absorbed, myopic and disconnected from the truth. From science, nature, and ourselves.
I’m mad. Incensed. Appalled.

I wonder…if we can pick ourselves out of our stupor and follow suit with the Dutch. To make government level action a priority, while making significant changes in our own lives and at grassroots level.

Doing what we can, in our own lives is a powerful undertaking. The little things can make all the difference. Like using our car less often…or not at all. Reducing or ditching our consumption of meat. Buying less, and reducing our waste dramatically. In public and private life. These are powerful and pertinent actions we can all take in our own lives.

If we can add to this, by following Urgenda’s lead in climate change litigation series…I believe it will make all the difference.

Shouldn’t States, around the world, be legally obliged to protect the environment? Wouldn’t it be great, if this was how our arguments with government were settled? Is it possible to hope that with each small success, politicians genuinely will begin to listen to us?

How did the Dutch do it?

Each State has their own potential—and shortcomings.

“In the U.S.A, there is no federal constitutional right to environmental protection…some state courts may recognize such a right…but the remedy might, at best, be limited to local sources.” ~ Richard Stewart, New York University.

I reckon it’s time to work through this. Pronto.

This is the official video documentation of the court ruling, with English subtitles.

This explains why climate change is a dangerous issue.

This explains how animal agriculture and the meat industry are leading causes of the greenhouse effect, and a serious contributor to increasing temperatures.

a journey of a thousand miles

(The internet seems undecided on whether this is a Confucius quote, or a Lao Tzu quote. So I thought I’d use this one, because I feel the message is the important part.)


[1] The Guardian; Nelsen, Aurthur, 24 June, 2015:

[2] The Guardian; Nelsen, Aurthur, 24 June, 2015:

[3] As above.

[4] As above.

[5] Business and Human Rights Resource Center; Urgenda, 01 October, 2015

[6] Science Alert; Crew, Beck, 16 Aug, 2016.

[7] NOAA. 

[8] Climate Central; Thompson, Andrea, 15 Aug, 2016.

[9] News.com.au; Staff writer, 17 Aug, 2016.

[10] Science Alert; Crew, Beck, 16 Aug, 2016.

[11] As above.


Author: Catherine Simmons

Images: Chantal Bekker/ Urgenda; Gavin Schmidt

Editor: Renée Picard

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