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Can the courts order governments to cut carbon emissions?

25 June 2015

According to a landmark ruling issued on 24 June 2015 in the Netherlands, the Dutch Government is failing to protect its citizens from hazardous climate change and has been ordered to reduce CO2 emissions by 25% by 2020.

Environmental group Urgenda Foundation’s case is apparently the first in the world to use human rights to argue for protection against climate change. Similar claims are already being considered in other countries, including the UK and US.

Could the UK face a similar challenge? Although the UK Government has committed to 80% reduction by 2050, the Dutch court held that short-term mitigation is vital. The national, EU and international legal framework relied on by Urgenda could apply against any national government, while the underlying principle – that a state is legally obliged to protect its citizens from hazardous climate change – is potentially ground-breaking. What remains to be seen is whether the Dutch Government will appeal or comply with the order and whether this will affect UK Government policy.

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