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Urgenda: A How-To Guide for Enforcing Greenhouse Gas Emission Targets by Protecting Human Rights

Feb 16, 2021

Naomi Spoelman

Volume 47 (2020) - Issue 2

The Supreme Court of the Netherlands ended 2019 as the first court in history to establish that protection from dangerous climate change is a human right thereby requiring the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to align with internationally recognized climate targets. The State of the Netherlands v. Urgenda Foundation establishes that the European Convention on Human
Rights (ECHR) requires the Netherlands to take adequate action to prevent the real and imminent risk of dangerous climate change. Specifically, the Urgenda decision enforces a national goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent by 2020. This ruling adds teeth to several climate-focused reports and treaties such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), the Kyoto Protocol, and the Doha Amendment. While the ECHR applies to all European nations, the Dutch Supreme Court’s interpretation of the ECHR in Urgenda is not binding outside the Netherlands. The European Court of Human Rights creates binding interpretations and precedent of the ECHR. Because the Urgenda decision was cemented in the Court of Human Rights’ case law and precedent, however, the decision may serve as a strategic template for how to achieve similar results using the ECHR to hold national governments legally accountable to climate change mitigation targets. For non-European nations outside the scope of these laws, Urgenda may provide a bode of confidence that there may yet be avenues available in the fight against dangerous climate change.