Three cheers for Urgenda!

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 9, 2018

I’ve been absent here since over the last weeks all my time except for teaching and other non-postponable duties has gone into nation-wide activism to end the underfunding of universities in the Netherlands – about which another time, hopefully soon, more in another blogpost. But I wanted to briefly interrupt my absence to share with you the good news that Urgenda, has won the Appeal that the Dutch State made against the famous 2015 Climate Case that Urgenda won, on which I wrote here at the time. For some brief reports about today’s ruling, see the NYT, the Guardian, or in Dutch, NRC.

The government keeps saying that it resents and rejects the fact that the courts are sitting on the seat of parliament which should control the government, and that the courts should not judge over policy issues. Now, I haven’t read the entire court ruling yet (here in Dutch, here in English translation) — but what strikes me is that drastically reducing greenhousegas-emissions is not a policy just like any other: they are necessary in order to safeguard the very preconditions of human life without excessive suffering. The analysis made by Henry Shue (and other climate ethicists) about the strong moral duties to act, makes decades-long weak action (from the state) a very good reason for the courts to step in and speak up. And it may even be enough reason for civil disobedience, perhaps even more.

Importantly, this is the bolstering of the 2015 ruling which was an international precedent – it provides hope and inspiration to climate action groups around the world who judge that their governments are not doing enough: if lobbying, persuasion and other measures do not yield enough results, that they can sue their governments.

So I salute Urgenda, thanking them for their leadership, at a time when our official leaders have been letting us down, since for decades they have been doing too little, too late.



John Quiggin 10.11.18 at 4:00 am

This is a huge win for the world, and for the Dutch people. Despite the bleakness of so many political trends, we seem to still be winning on this issue. Every day it seems, financiers of coal are backing away, and civil society protests are gaining ground. In news I saw today, Mitsubishi has become the latest Japanese company to limit its exposure to coal
and the World Bank has withdrawn support for the Kosovo lignite project, as well as seeking to end indirect support for coal-exposed institutions


Ingrid Robeyns 10.11.18 at 6:32 am

One thing that strikes me, is that progress is to a considerable extent coming from civil society and ‘social entrepreneurs’ and also from ‘new forms’ of activism. Urgenda is not your regular environmental activist group – it consists of a coalition of well-connected people who are using their connections and networks to influence policy making and lobby companies to do more to move to a fosile-free world. What this suggests, to my mind, is that we need to keep thinking ‘out of the box’ for which forms of activism are needed, and that in any case we shouldn’t trust the governments to fix this – because without pressure from below, it is clear that governments don’t do enough.


Zamfir 10.11.18 at 6:35 am

My main worry here: I bet the VVD is now planning for some Dutch federalist society to get more VVD-aligned judges on the courts. It will be hard to keep a neutral judiciary, if courts can make decisions that go so deeply into the political domain. While so am personally all I feel about of more aggressive action on greenhouse gases, I am not hppy at all with a court-driven approach

Perhaps this case is exceptional, not a precedent for other cases. Its reasoning only works because the state does not dispute the long-term climate goals, only the short term implementation.

Then again, that applies to a lot of Dutch politics. Everyone pretends to share some vague goal, and the fight happens in the details. Which is not so bad, IMO. I’d rather have a VVD that pretends to fight climate change but does not do anything, than a VVD that denies climate change.

Comments on this entry are closed.