the netherlands
In a landmark ruling, a Dutch court declared the government’s current climate policy illegal and called for emissions cut by at least 25 percent -- compared to the 1990 levels -- within the next five years. Pictured: A view of a gas production plant is seen in 't Zand in Groningen February 24, 2015. Reuters/Michael Kooren

In a landmark ruling delivered just two months after almost 900 Dutch citizens sued their government in a bid to force a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, a Dutch court ordered the government to do exactly that. In its ruling, the court declared the government’s current climate policy illegal and called for emissions to be cut by at least 25 percent -- from 1990 levels -- within the next five years.

“Based on the State’s current policy, the Netherlands will achieve a reduction of 17 percent at most in 2020, which is below the norm of 25 percent to 40 percent for developed countries deemed necessary in climate science and international climate policy,” the court said.“The State must do more to avert the imminent danger caused by climate change, also in view of its duty of care to protect and improve the living environment.”

The judges also urged the Dutch government to “not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts.”

According to current estimates, the Netherlands accounts for about 0.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions -- as opposed to China (nearly 23 percent) and the U.S. (15.6 percent).

The ruling on the case, which was brought to court by the environmental rights group Urgenda Foundation, is expected to serve as a template for actions to enforce legally-binding emissions cuts elsewhere in the world.

“This is a world first for us,” Marjan Minnesma, co-founder and director of Urgenda, reportedly said, reacting to the court’s ruling. “Millions of people who already experience climate change personally hope that we, the people responsible for the emissions and who have the means, will still make a timely intervention. … These people, with this ruling in hand, can now bring their own cases.”

The plaintiffs had argued that global warming of more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) would lead to a violation of fundamental human rights worldwide as it would affect people living in low-lying areas and developing nations.

Since records began in 1880, global temperatures have risen by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit. And, over the last 100 years, the global average sea level has gone up by seven inches -- a phenomenon whose effect is already being felt by island nations in the Pacific Ocean and people living in coastal regions. Greenhouse gases, emitted by a variety of sources such as fossil fuels and livestock, are believed to be largely responsible for this phenomenon.