Belgium has breached civil law and violated the European convention on human rights by failing to meet its declared climate targets, a court in Brussels ruled Friday, in what The Guardian calls “the latest legal victory against public authorities that have broken promises to tackle the climate emergency.”
Brussels-based Klimaatzaak (Climate Case) declared the decision historic, even though the Belgian court of first instance opted not to impose tougher carbon targets on the national government.
Courts in the Netherlands, Germany, and France have already called out their national governments for falling short in their responses to the climate emergency, or for breaking their promises, The Guardian notes. But the latest case went a step farther with its recognition of 58,000 Belgian citizens as co-plaintiffs, said Klimaatzaak chair Serge de Gheldere.
“For the first time it is recognized that we are in direct, personal, and real danger,” he said.
“The court accepts that these [58,000] people have a direct and personal interest,” agreed the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Carole Billiet. “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 for 2030,” The Guardian explains, citing the European Commission. “Analysts say the complex dispersal of powers between different tiers of government has led to buck-passing on tackling the climate emergency.” Klimaatzaak said the court’s call for the federal government and the country’s three regions to act as “prudent and diligent” authorities “meant these tiers of government should be jointly responsible for meeting climate targets,” the UK-based paper adds.
The judges concluded they would have violated the country’s separation of powers had they tried to impose more stringent carbon targets. Campaigners said they would appeal that aspect of the judgement, but warned a backlogged court system could take up to 9½ years to resolve the matter—when the carbon target would have to be met in 10.
Climate Minister Zakia Khattabi, a Green Party politician now part of a seven-party governing coalition, said she respected the court decision but noted it carried no legal or financial consequences. She added that the government had raised its climate ambition since the coalition formed last September.
“We have supported the European objective of raising our emissions reduction targets to at least 55% by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050, and we are activating all federal levers to achieve these objectives,” she said. “In this respect I have not been waiting for this condemnation.”