Belgium’s failure to meet climate targets is a human rights violation, a Brussels court has ruled, in the latest legal victory against public authorities who have broken their promises to address the climate emergency.
The Brussels court of first instance declared that the Belgian state had committed a crime under Belgian civil law and had violated the European convention on human rights.
By failing to take all the “necessary measures” to prevent the “damaging” effects of climate change, the court said, the Belgian authorities had violated the right to life (Article 2) and the right to respect for private and family life ( Article 8).
The NGO that presented the case, Klimaatzaak, praised the ruling as historic, both for the nature of the decision and for the court’s recognition of 58,000 citizens as co-plaintiffs.
“For the first time it is recognized that we are in direct, personal and real danger,” said Serge de Gheldere, president of Klimaatzaak, which means climate case in Dutch.
The legal victory follows similar rulings in the Netherlands, Germany and France, where judges have condemned governments for inadequate responses to the climate crisis or for failing to deliver on their promises.
A lawyer who performed for the activists, Carole Billiet, told De Morgen the decision was revolutionary. She said: “The court accepts that these [58,000] people have a direct and personal interest. “Even the Dutch and German courts have not done that in similar cases.”
Belgium, the first continental European country to undergo the industrial revolution, is on track to miss its emission reduction targets by 2030, according to the European Commission. Analysts say that the complex dispersion of powers between different levels of government has led to a reluctance to address the climate emergency.
The court ruled that the Belgian federal government and three regions had not acted as “prudent and diligent” authorities. Klimaatzaak said the verdict meant that these levels of government should be jointly responsible for meeting climate goals.
But the judges rejected the NGO’s demand that the courts should impose stringent new carbon reduction targets on the state, saying this would violate the separation of powers.
The activists promised to appeal against the ruling on this point, although they fear that time is running out to step up Belgium’s contribution to halt dangerous global warming. “The Brussels court is experiencing such long delays that the climate case may only be finalized in nine and a half years. And we are only 10 years old, ”said the NGO.
Belgium’s climate minister, Zakia Khattabi, said she respected the court’s decision, but noted that it had no financial or legal consequences.
Khattabi, a green politician who became a minister when warring political parties formed a seven-party coalition government last September, said the government had raised its ambitions.
“We have supported the European goal of raising our emission reduction targets to at least 55% by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050, and we are activating all federal levers to achieve these targets,” he said. “In this sense, I have not been waiting for this sentence.”
She said the government had launched a monitoring system to check how federal policies were meeting climate goals.
“This unprecedented governance system is a great step forward,” he said.