Why suing your government is the most effective form of climate activism

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On the 13th September, the Dutch Supreme Court announced that they will give their final verdict on Urgenda’s climate lawsuit by the end of the year. The 2015 Urgenda climate case is the first crowd pleading lawsuit in the world that holds the government legally responsible for its greenhouse emission targets. 

On the same day as the Supreme Court announcement, director of Urgenda Foundation, Marjan Minnesma gave a talk at the Impact Hub in Amsterdam about her motivation and her vision for the landmark case.  

Do you remember the 1992 Kyoto Protocol? It was the world’s first attempt to work together to cut global carbon emissions, even though the targets varied between nations. However, countries like Canada and the United States soon dropped out of the treaty while the global emission soared over the decades as the emerging economies developed.  

The Kyoto Protocol was a failure in the end because it was not legally binding and there were repercussions. The Urgenda Foundation wanted to change the norm and took the government to court.

“It is still possible for the Dutch government to reach its 2020 climate target”

- Marjan Minnesma, the Director of Urgenda Foundation

During her talk at the Impact Hub, Minnesma’s speech focused on the importance of effectiveness when engaging in social activism. She pointed out that she tries to maximise her efforts and resources by prioritising strategies that can lead to structural changes.

For example, Minnesma’s Urgenda, along with 700 stakeholders, outlined 40 actions for the government to reach the 25 per cent emission cut by 2020. It would cost €2 billion to carry out 38 of the 40 measures. “The government had an €11 billion budget surplus in 2018,” said Minnesma.  

Since the beginning of the court case, instead of allocating time and resources to its climate policies, the Dutch government wasted precious time appealing the case.

Many people in the audience were curious if lawyers could make the climate case an international lawsuit and bring it to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Minnesma said that since there is no legal precedent if the climate case won at the national level, it would be premature to take it to the ICC at the moment. So if you are lawyers, you can start with your crowd pleading in your country, like the Urgenda Foundation. 

What if you aren’t lawyers? You can still do something about Climate Change:

“We need immediate actions because we are running out of time,” Minnesma said. More and more people are aware of the urgency of our climate crisis. Besides individual actions, we need to push for more systematic changes and hold our governments and corporations accountable for the sake of climate justice.

To find out more about Urgenda’s climate strategies, you can check out their sustainability report that provides a concrete plan and analysis for the Netherlands to transition to a 100% sustainable energy supply by 2030. 

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