Worldwide: Climate Change Litigation: Urgenda Update

Last Updated: July 10 2019
Article by Zoë Thoms and Christian Nianiaris

In Urgenda Foundation v. The State of the Netherlands (2015) (Urgenda), the State of Netherlands was found by the court to have an affirmative duty toward its citizens to take action against climate change (see previous posts on the topic here and here). Since the initial decision, plaintiffs in other jurisdictions have used it as a framework to bring court challenges alleging their respective governments' failure to mitigate the deleterious effects of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The Original Urgenda Decision Works Its Way Through the Courts

The Dutch Urgenda – "Urgent Agenda" – Foundation was founded in 2007 to promote sustainability, including calling for 100% sustainable energy in the Netherlands by 2030 (Report 2030). Representing 886 Dutch citizens at the Hague District Court in June 2015, the Urgenda Foundation successfully argued that the Dutch government had failed to implement GHG mitigation policies that would achieve the goal of decreasing a 2°C rise in global temperatures, thereby acting hazardously negligent toward its citizens. The plaintiff had to first establish that the government owed a duty of care, then determine the standard of that duty.

The court analyzed domestic and international law to come to its conclusion, including Article 21 of the Dutch Constitution, the UN Climate Change Convention, the international "no-harm" principle, the EU Emissions Trading System directive  and Articles 2 and 8 of the  European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – all of which import obligations on the government that the plaintiffs argued were more than mere formalities. The court did not find the ECHR to be applicable, but did find that an interpretation of the Dutch court's case law shows an increasing "awareness of a link between the protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals and the environment." The court held that the government breached their duty when it implemented improper GHG reduction measures.

The government appealed on all grounds to the Court of Appeal. The Urgenda Foundation cross-appealed on the grounds that they should have been able to rely on Articles 2 (the right to life) and 8 (the right to respect for private and family life) of the ECHR. Siding with Urgenda, the Court of Appeal held that "the State [was] acting unlawfully (because in contravention of the duty of care under Articles 2 and 8 [ECHR]) by failing to pursue a more ambitious reduction as of end-2020, and that the State should reduce emissions by at least 25% by end-2020." [para 76].

The government appealed that decision to the Supreme Court of Netherlands. Arguments were heard on May 24, 2019. The Dutch government argued that the Appeal Court's decision improperly "'limits the state's freedom of choice in establishing policy on the scope of this reduction' which could have 'significant consequences' for government freedom to make climate policy in other areas." The court has not yet released its decision.

Urgenda's Global Impact

Despite appealing the decision, the Dutch government followed the District Court's original order to take steps to reduce GHG emissions to limit the global temperature rise to 2ºC. This recommendation is in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report 2007, which the Netherlands had signed on to. Among other things, the report states that in order to avoid a 2°C rise in global temperatures, the total GHG emissions by countries, including the Netherlands, must be 25-40% lower than 1990 levels by 2020.

The Centre for International Governance Innovation – a leading Canadian research organization focused on international governance – released a report which discusses the unique potential for influence that international treaties and precedents have in climate change litigation in other jurisdictions. For example, the fact that a national government has adopted the IPCC Reports (which both the Netherlands and Canada have) makes it difficult for them to contest a plaintiff's claim that certain levels of GHG emissions must be met because these governments have previously agreed on the appropriate levels in these Reports. Although plaintiffs "cannot directly derive rights from treaty provisions or resolutions that have been adopted during the various climate change conferences, these provisions and resolutions can help — by means of the open standard of a socially responsible duty of care — in defining the duty of care standard that a government must practise in judicial matters."

The International Implementation of the Urgenda Framework

The approach used by the Urgenda Foundation has been taken up by plaintiffs in other jurisdictions, including New Zealand, India, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, United States, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Colombia, European Union, Pakistan, and Canada. We highlight a few of these cases below.


In November 2018, an environmental group called ENvironment JEUnesse (ENJEU) applied to the court to authorize a class action against the Canadian government on behalf of Quebecers aged 35 and under. Like Urgenda, ENJEU claims that Canada's GHG emissions targets are insufficient to avoid the impacts of climate change.

The motion for authorization to institute a class action brought by ENJEU seeks a declaration that by adopting dangerous GHG emissions targets, the Canadian government is violating the class members' Charter rights and is not ensuring that the class members live in a safe climate, thereby shirking their duty to act against climate change. The class members are seeking $100 each, amounting to $340 million total – all of which would be placed into a fund for the implementation of anti-climate change measures.

The Canadian government argues that claim goes beyond the bounds of justiciability. The government's lawyers argue that "this class action asks the court to interfere in the legislative and the executive branches," and the "courts cannot dictate to the federal government a way forward."

The Quebec Superior Court justice heard arguments in early June from ENJEU and the Canadian government on the threshold issue of authorizing the class action proceeding. The court has not yet released its decision.

United States

In Juliana v. United States, a number of youth filed a climate lawsuit in 2015 against the U.S. government. Lower courts have been allowing the proceedings to continue, but sustained motions by the U.S. government and an enjoinment of the proceedings in 2018 by the Supreme Court of the United States, have meant that the case has not progressed.

The complaint accuses the U.S. government of causing climate change, thereby breaching the government's duty of care toward its citizens by violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, and failing to protect public trust resources. The plaintiffs are asking for the government to be required to "develop a plan to reduce CO2 emissions so that atmospheric CO2 concentrations will be ... consistent with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C."

The U.S. government argues that:

  • the plaintiffs do not have standing because their grievance is universally shared and generalized;
  • there is no fundamental right to a "stable climate system" as put forward by the plaintiffs; and
  • that there is no federal public trust doctrines which creates a right to particular climate conditions.

On June 4, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal heard oral arguments from both sides on a procedural motion that will decide whether this case will go to trial. No decision has been released yet. You can see the timeline of the proceedings along with additional information here and here.

What's Next?

Although the outcome of the most recent Urgenda appeal will be closely watched by those seeking to launch their own climate change litigation, it has already spawned litigation around the world, including in Canada. It will be interesting to see if Urgenda's original success can be repeated outside of the Netherlands.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions