June 24 was a victorious day for the climate in the Netherlands. A Dutch court ruled that government emissions targets were too low, given the grave danger posed by climate change, and ordered the state to cut emissions by 25 per cent within five years.
According to the Guardian, campaigners said governments “would now need to look over their shoulders for civil rights era-style legal challenges where emissions-cutting pledges are inadequate.”
This is huge news for us at the David Suzuki Foundation. We believe that all Canadians, no matter who they are or where they live, deserve the right to live in a healthy environment. And one way to secure that right is through landmark court decisions like this one.
In 2008, a lawsuit brought before Canadian courts to compel our government to live up to its legal obligations under the Kyoto Protocol was rejected. It was deemed inappropriate for the judiciary to interfere with what was seen as political work.
But the Netherlands court found the risks to people from climate change are too great not to act. We agree. And through the Blue Dot movement, we’re hoping to convince our leaders to take action on our right to live in a healthy environment — including making sure we see climate justice here in Canada.
Environmental rights and climate change are inextricably connected. Countries with environmental rights and responsibilities in their constitutions have reduced greenhouse gas emissions substantially faster than countries without those provisions.
These rights have also led to stronger environmental laws, better enforcement of those laws and a greater public role in environmental decision-making — all good news for the climate.
Many experts believe section 7 of our Charter can be read to include environmental rights under security of the person. Our partners at Ecojustice are exploring this avenue now through the courts. Another option is a direct Charter amendment to explicitly guarantee the right to a healthy environment, something more than 110 nations around the world already have. This is the ultimate goal of the Blue Dot movement.
The lesson for Canada’s leaders is that more and more people around the world — and here in our country — are pushing for a more balanced approach to how we treat the natural world that sustains us.
The Netherlands decision will likely be appealed, but similar campaigns are already taking place in Belgium, Norway and the Philippines. While these groups help bring environmental rights into the mainstream around the world, the Blue Dot movement will keep doing the same here in Canada.
This growing movement will build the kind of public support needed to influence future court decisions in Canada and give our political leaders a clear mandate to do everything they can to protect the people and places we love.