Urgenda Foundation v. State of the Netherlands

From Climate Litigation

This landmark case was the first in the world in which citizens established that their government has a legal duty to prevent dangerous climate change.[1] The case against the Netherlands was brought by the Urgenda Foundation and 900 Dutch citizens. They claimed that the Dutch target for greenhouse gas emission reductions by 2020 was insufficient to meet the UN goal of keeping temperature increase below 2°C and that continued emissions violated their human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

In June 2015, the District Court of The Hague ruled that the Netherlands must by 2020 cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25% compared with 1990 levels. The state appealed, with the Dutch Supreme Court ultimately upholding the ruling in 2019.

Relevant Laws and Principles[edit]

  • Paris Agreement
  • European Convention on Human Rights
    • Article 2 - Right to life
    • Article 8 - Right to private life, family life, home, and correspondence.


Given the risks of climate change, the judges ruled that the government's aim to reduce emissions by 14-17% compared to 1990 levels by 2020 was illegal. The courts found in favor of the plaintiffs, ordering the Netherlands to increase the target and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020 as compared with 1990 levels [2]. They also ruled that pursuant to Articles 2 and 8 European Convention on Human Rights, the State is obliged to achieve that reduction, due to the risk of dangerous climate change that could have a severe impact on the lives and welfare of the residents of the Netherlands.

Further, the court found nothing in Article 193 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that prohibits a member state from taking more ambitious climate action than the E.U. as a whole, nor that adaptation measures can compensate for the government’s duty of care to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, nor that the global nature of the problem excuses the Dutch government from action.[3]


The Urgenda decision is one of the most famous and most significant climate litigation rulings worldwide. It was the first case in which citizens established that their government has a duty of care to protect them from the adverse effects of climate change.

The case directly inspired numerous other cases, including in Belgium, France, Germany, and Ireland.

The ruling resulted in real emission reduction changes by the government of the Netherlands. As a result of the ruling, the Dutch government ordered one of the five coal-fired power plants in the Netherlands to close four years ahead of schedule.[4]