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Historic Climate Ruling Upheld by Dutch Appeals Court

A flood barrier in the Netherlands, a low-lying country vulnerable to climate change. Mischa Keijser / Cultura / Getty Images

A Dutch appeals court upheld a historic climate liability ruling Tuesday, affirming that the Dutch government has to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, The Associated Press reported.

The original ruling, decided in June 2015, was the first time a court found that governments had a legal obligation to their citizens to protect them from climate change, The Guardian reported at the time.


The appeal ruling comes as a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has emphasized the need for urgent action to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

"Considering the great dangers that are likely to occur, more ambitious measures have to be taken in the short term to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to protect the life and family life of citizens in the Netherlands," the court said in a statement reported by The Associated Press.

The original case was brought by the environmental group Urgenda, representing 900 Dutch citizens. The Netherlands' liberal government, lead by Mark Rutte, plans to reduce emissions 17 percent by 2020, The Guardian reported, but now two courts have agreed with Urgenda that that is not enough.

"The special report of the IPCC emphasizes that we need to reduce emissions with much greater urgency. The Dutch government knows that as a low-lying country, we are on the frontline of climate change. Our own government agencies recently concluded that in the worst case scenario sea levels might rise by 2.5 to three meters (approximately eight to 10 feet) by the end of the century. The court of appeal's decision puts all governments on notice. They must act now, or they will be held to account," Urgenda Director Marjan Minnesma told The Guardian.

The ruling could have consequences for similar cases around the world, in countries as widely distributed as New Zealand, Norway, Uganda and the UK.

"Governments can no longer make promises they don't fulfill. Countries have an obligation to protect their citizens against climate change. That makes this trial relevant for all other countries," Dutch Green leader Jesse Klaver told The Guardian.

In the U.S., the Trump administration is attempting to stall the climate liability case Juliana v. United States, being brought by Our Children's Trust on behalf of 21 young people who assert their constitutional rights have been violated by the federal government, which is aware of the dangers of climate change but continues to promote the use of fossil fuels.

The case is scheduled to go to trial Oct. 29, but the federal government filed a motion requesting a stay Friday until the Supreme Court can review the case, The Register-Guard reported.

Both the 9th Circuit and Supreme Court ruled in July the case could proceed to trial, so lawyers for the plaintiffs think it is unlikely the government's delays will succeed, despite this weekend's confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Attorney Philip Gregory told the Register-Guard Monday that a different decision was "doubtful" "given the fact that Justice (Anthony) Kennedy and the rest of the court, less than three months ago, determined the case should proceed forward to trial."

Back in the Netherlands, the Dutch government issued a statement Tuesday saying it would review the ruling for grounds for a further appeal, but also said that it would comply with the court's order and that a 25 percent emissions reduction by 2020 was "within reach," The Associated Press reported.

Minnesma recommended the government shut down coal-fired plants and reduce maximum speeds on some highways.

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