Unbearable droughts in India, Arctic permafrost thawing 70 years sooner than predicted and water shortages during the summer of 2018, even here in Amsterdam. Worldwide, the drastic effects of climate change are becoming more visible than ever. Four years after the 2015 Paris Agreement, during which 192 countries committed to limiting global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees, our global leaders failed to take the drastic measures needed to turn the tide. Worldwide, people are filing international climate lawsuits against governments and private companies for taking insufficient action to tackle climate change. When (international) policy fails, can court prevail? Tonight, we will discuss the role of law in the fight against climate change through exemplary cases worldwide.
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The past years have seen a surge in legislation of this sort: in the Netherlands, judges recently ordered the state to do more to protect the climate in the historic case of Urgenda. In France, a group of NGOs, including Greenpeace and Oxfam, launched a lawsuit against the French state, accusing it of taking insufficient action to tackle climate change. In fact, not only governments are being sued. Private companies are also taken to court in order to hold them accountable for the consequences of global warming. How did climate change judgement inspire a global civil movement?
One of the leading examples of such cases at the moment is the suing of oil company Shell by Milieudefensie, forcing the oil company to immediately stop oil and gas extraction, as only then global warming can remain below 1,5 degrees.
Another high-profile case is the one lead by legislator Roda Verheyen, who is representing Peruvian farmer Saúl Luciano Lliuya, suing German coal giant RWE for the damages done to Saúl’s hometown in the Andes as a result of a melting glacier. Verheyen is also known for, among other things, a lawsuit against the European Union compiled by 10 families from across Europe regarding the threats climate change posed to their homes and livelihoods.
In 2015, Marie Toussaint founded Notre affaire à tous (in our common interest), an NGO to defend the right for climate justice. Together with, amongst others, Oxfam France, Greenpeace France and the Foundation for Nature and Man, they started a climate justice campaign in France to sue the state for its inaction in the fight against global warming. The associated petition becomes the most signed in France in less than a week, collecting 2 million signatories in a month.
Dennis van Berkel
The Urgenda Foundation case against the state of the Netherlands was the first of its kind. It successfully argued for the adoption of stricter emissions reduction targets by the government, a landmark which encouraged people from all over the world to take climate injustice to court. Dennis van Berkel is a climate change advocate who works at the Dutch Climate Case together with 900 Dutch citizens.
How do we distribute water in a fair and sustainable way? Does nature also have the right to water? Professor Daphina Misiedjan specializes in issues concerning human rights (in particular economic, social and cultural rights) and the environment.