Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Court Ruling in the Netherlands may point the way to cracking the climate compliance conundrum

Posted 24 Jun 2015 / 0

BBC NewsClimate change: Is the Dutch court ruling ‘a game changer’?

Nature Breaking News “Landmark court ruling tells Dutch government to do more on climate change

The New York TimesLandmark Dutch Ruling: Cut Emissions to Protect Citizens

The GuardianDutch government ordered to cut carbon emissions in landmark ruling

There is so much bad news on climate change that we have to note any victory we can, perhaps just to keep our spirits up about the future of human civilization as we know it. There is no doubt that we are capable of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to sustainable levels, the question is whether we will choose to do so. To stabilize the climate and preserve civilization, we need the major countries of the world to sign on to substantial emissions-reduction targets and meet those targets.

Getting this sort of agreement presents a lot of problems. Attempts at a complete ‘top down’ approach in which all countries agree to a climate treaty have failed for more than two decades. While it seems like the most simple solution to our climate problems is to just forge an international agreement, this might not actually be a feasible pathway. Perhaps individual countries need to serve as the vanguard, meeting necessary emissions-reduction targets before an international agreement is forged. Perhaps this vanguard has the potential to use reputation and peer pressure amongst nations to eventually produce a comprehensive climate treaty.

If so, the first to the front may be The Netherlands, where a court ruling basically said that the Dutch government has the obligation to protect the future of its citizens by addressing climate change. What I really like about this ruling is that it puts the environmental justice component of climate change front- and-center. Can an environmental justice movement around climate spur a radical change in social practices in the same way that desegregation rulings in the 1960’s transformed the racial politics of the United States?

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