Promise is promised: will the Belgian court keep the government to its international climate promises?

Six years ago, the non-profit organization Climate Case, an initiative of 11 well-known Flemish people, sued the federal government and the three regions for their (negligent) climate policy. Meanwhile, more than 58,000 other "concerned citizens" joined the cause. The trial on the merits (finally) starts today.

In concrete terms, Climate Case demands that the court oblige the four governments of our country to take the necessary measures to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 42 to 48% by 2025 compared to 1990 levels, by 55 to 65% by 2030 and to completely eliminate them by 2050. neutralize. According to the non-profit association, Belgium does not comply with its (legally non-binding) international commitments to combat global warming, despite their scientifically proven urgency. This lack of government action would be a violation of the government's duty of care. A careful government can be expected to effectively protect its citizens against the harmful effects of global warming, according to Climate Case. The (legally binding) fundamental right to life and respect for private and family life of its co-claimants would also be violated by this inadequate climate policy. Previously, the European Court of Human Rights based itself on this latter principle in the environmental case surrounding Heathrow Airport.

With this, the non-profit organization Climate Case is following the Dutch Urgenda foundation. Urgenda made history in 2015 when it was able to convince the court to oblige the Dutch State to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020 compared to 1990. This first on a global level caused quite a stir in political and legal circles. It was assumed that the claim would already fail if such a class action was inadmissible, in which case the public interest is not served. In addition, it was believed that the separation of powers prevented the court from ruling on such a “political” claim.

The Dutch court, strengthened by the International Convention of Aarhus that prescribes access to justice in environmental matters, however, declared the claim admissible and recalled that the purpose of the separation of powers consists in providing checks and balances between the three powers. . On that basis, the judge must protect citizens against a failing government policy. Now that the court established that the Dutch State had not made sufficient efforts to protect its citizens from dangerous global warming, a legislative order was required. It is remarkable that the court did not fall for the fact that the Netherlands had no legally binding obligation to do what Urgenda demanded.

This precedent (as well as the recent ruling in the French climate case) is of course very good news for the Belgian Climate Case, which raises a similar argument and is confronted with the same legal objections. However, it remains to be seen whether the Belgian court is prepared to go as far as its foreign colleagues.

In any case, the climate challenge facing our governments is not in the least historic. However, the Climate Case is not convinced that they (want to) see the urgency of this and asks that they be forced to take far-reaching action through a conviction under the forfeiture of a penalty of 1 million euros per month of delay. Even if the judge grants that demand, it will not be an easy task to achieve the objectives set by Climate Case. So no doubt to be continued.