In practical terms, the Supreme Court’s decision will force the government to take strong action to reach the 25 percent reduction, which could include closing coal-fired power plants, some of which opened as recently as 2016.
Urgenda is a portmanteau word, a combination of “urgent” and “agenda.”
The Dutch case has inspired similar suits against governments around the world, including in Belgium, France, Ireland, Germany, New Zealand, Britain, Switzerland and Norway, and from plaintiffs around the world against the European Union, part of a larger trend of citizens seeking action from the courts on climate issues.
In the United States, climate policy has been influenced by the courts numerous times, and the number of lawsuits against the federal government has grown.
In a 2007 case, Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, the Supreme Court supported the state’s argument that the Clean Air Act empowered the government to regulate greenhouse gases. A federal suit on behalf of young people awaits trial in Oregon after a labyrinthine path of pretrial filings and appeals that have reached the Supreme Court twice already.
Global governmental action on climate change has lost momentum since the 2015 Paris climate agreement was reached. President Trump has begun the process of withdrawing the United States from the agreement, and the most recent climate talks to move the process forward, which were held in Madrid, were widely considered a disappointment.
In response to Friday’s ruling in the Netherlands, Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and a former president of Ireland, said, “After the U.N. climate talks in Madrid, the urgency of increasing our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could not be clearer.” The new decision, she said, “affirms that governments are under a legal obligation, as well as a moral obligation, to significantly increase their ambition on climate change. Our human rights depend on it.”
One of the plaintiffs in the case, Damian Rau, was 12 years old when the case was first filed. In a statement from Urgenda, he called the judgment “an example to the world that no one is powerless and everybody can make a difference.”
Claire Moses contributed reporting.