Judges in Belgium say state’s failure to meet climate targets breaches both civil law and the human rights convention.
Belgian Judge agrees with Climate Case but does not impose specific targets
On Thursday, 17 June 2021, the Court of First Instance of Brussels collectively condemned the Belgian authorities for their negligent climate policy. The judges ruled that the Belgian climate policy is substandard and not only violates the legal duty of care but also human rights. However, much to the disappointment of campaigners the court chose not to impose a binding emissions reduction target on the federal and regional governments.
Belgian court finds government negligent on climate
On Thursday 17 June, a Belgian court found state authorities guilty of negligence in its policies to tackle the climate crisis, in a judgment that activists hailed as historic.
However, the Court of First Instance in Brussels nevertheless opted not to impose a binding emissions reduction target on the federal and regional governments, to the disappointment of campaigners.
Environmental group Klimaatzaak (‘Climate Case’ in Dutch) launched legal action in 2015, hoping to match the success of similar efforts in the Netherlands and Germany.
More than 58,000 citizens joined the lawsuit and all were ruled to have a right to be heard, a unique victory in itself, according to the group’s president, Serge de Gheldere.
In the ruling, the court found that in their climate policies the federal government and the three regions had "not behaved as generally prudent and diligent authorities, which constitutes an offence".
The court declared that by not all “necessary measures” to prevent the “detrimental” effects of climate change, Belgian authorities had breached the right to life (article 2) and the right to respect for private and family life (article 8) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Read the complete verdict.
Belgium is on track to miss its emission reduction targets for 2030
The legal victory follows similar rulings in The Netherlands, Germany and France, where judges have condemned governments for inadequate responses to the climate crisis or failing to keep their promises, writes The Guardian.
A lawyer who acted for the campaigners, Carole Billiet, told De Morgen the decision was groundbreaking. She said: “The court accepts that these [58,000] people have a direct and personal interest. Even the Dutch and German courts have not done that in similar cases.”
Belgium is on track to miss its emission reduction targets for 2030, according to the European Commission.
While the court ruled that the Belgian federal government and three regions had not acted as “prudent and diligent” authorities, judges rejected the NGO’s demand that the courts should enforce tough new carbon-cutting targets on the state, saying this would breach the separation of powers.
Campaigners vowed to appeal against the judgment on this point, although they fear they will run out of time to intensify Belgium’s contribution to stopping dangerous global heating.
Belgian ruling part of a trend that is slowly tipping the balance towards climate justice
The Belgian judgement comes hot on the heels of a recent historic verdict with enormous consequences for all big polluters globally, when a court in The Hague (Netherlands) last month ruled that Shell must reduce its CO2 emissions by 45% within 10 years.
Meanwhile in the United States (on the very same day as the Shell ruling!) both ExxonMobile and Chevron’s shareholders pressed the oil giants for immediate change in how the oil and gas industry prepares for a low-carbon future.
While there is doubtless still a lot of work to be done, be encouraged by the fact there are incredible breakthroughs being made in the right direction. The momentum and resolve of campaigners and activists are making their mark. People are being listened to, and together, ordinary citizens around the world who care about the planet and the future are making a difference! All is not lost.
SCIENTISTS WARN WE ONLY HAVE 12 YEARS TO HALT CLIMATE CATASTROPHE, BUT WE HAVE TO WORK TOGETHER!
12 years isn’t a long time, but what humanity has managed to achieve in the past 12 years is good cause for hope and optimism. Here’s what you can do.