Urgenda – World Rescue by Court Order? The “Climate Justice”-Movement Tests the Limits of Legal Protection

In: Journal for European Environmental & Planning Law

The Gerechtshof in The Hague has condemned the Netherlands to take measures to ensure a reduction of at least 25% of Dutch greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2020. The court thus confirms the first-instance Urgenda decision, which had attracted much attention worldwide and which serves as a model for a whole series of other climate change litigations, some of which have since failed, some are still pending or planned. Even bearing in mind the urgency of the climate protection goal pursued by these lawsuits, the idea of a world rescue through court decisions is ultimately misleading. It overestimates the power of the judicial branch and risks being lost in mere symbolism. Worse still, it shifts responsibilities and creates expectations that tend to further de-legitimize the constitutional democratic systems of the world and their concept of a separation of powers. Even from a solely environmental point of view, this constitutes a high risk, because there are no better alternatives of responsible government. Keeping this risk in mind, the fact that the specific “Urgenda”-decision is legally not convincing seems an almost minor aspect.