A Brussels court has ruled that Belgium’s failure to meet climate targets is a violation of human rights, in the latest legal victory against public officials who have broken promises to address the climate emergency.
The Brussels Court of First Instance ruled that the Belgian state had violated Belgian civil law and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The court ruled that Belgian authorities violated the right to life (article 2) and the right to respect for private and family life by failing to take all “necessary measures” to prevent the “detrimental” effects of climate change (article 8).
Klimaatzaak, the NGO that brought the case, hailed the decision as historic, both in terms of the nature of the decision and the court’s recognition of 58,000 citizens as co-plaintiffs.
“For the first time, it is acknowledged that we are in direct, personal, and real danger,” said Serge de Gheldere, chairman of Klimaatzaak, which translates as “climate case” in Dutch.
Similar rulings in the Netherlands, Germany, and France have condemned governments for inadequate responses to the climate crisis or for failing to keep their promises.
Carole Billiet, a lawyer who represented the campaigners, told De Morgen that the decision was groundbreaking. “The court accepts that these [58,000] people have a direct and personal interest,” she said. In similar cases, neither the Dutch nor the German courts have done so.”
According to the European Commission, Belgium, the first continental European country to experience the industrial revolution, is on track to miss its 2030 emission reduction targets. According to analysts, the complex distribution of powers among different levels of government has resulted in buck-passing on addressing the climate emergency.
The court ruled that the federal government of Belgium and its three regions had not acted in a “prudent and diligent” manner. According to Klimaatzaak, the decision means that these levels of government will be jointly responsible for meeting climate targets.
However, judges rejected the NGO’s request that the courts impose strict new carbon-cutting targets on the state, citing a violation of the separation of powers.
Campaigners have vowed to appeal the judgment on this point, fearing that they will run out of time to increase Belgium’s contribution to halting dangerous global warming. “Due to the long delays at the Brussels court, the climate case may not be resolved for another nine and a half years.” And we only have ten years,” the NGO stated.
Zakia Khattabi, Belgium’s climate minister, said she respected the court’s decision but that it had no financial or legal ramifications.
Khattabi, a green politician who became minister when Belgium’s warring political parties formed a seven-party coalition government last September, stated that the government’s ambitions had risen. “We have supported the European goal of increasing our emissions reduction targets to at least 55% by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050, and we are utilizing all federal levers to achieve these goals,” she said. “In this regard, I have not waited for this condemnation.”
She stated that the government had established a monitoring system to assess how federal policies were meeting climate goals.
“This unprecedented governance system represents a significant step forward,” she said.