Right to Health and Lack of Climate Change Measures (Urgenda-climate case)
Similar to the previous paragraph, the Dutch government also has been criticized in the past reporting period for not taking sufficient action on preventing harmful international climate change. In past years, the Netherlands has pursued as an official policy to reduce greenhouse gases with 17%, instead of minimum reduction efforts of 25% as required by international climate agreements – so as to keep to maximum 2 degrees warming. In fact, recent discussions leading up to the new UNFCCC Paris Agreement affirm now that a maximum warming level of 2% is insufficient and that 1,5% is to be strived for; accordingly efforts and targets have to be improved.
In 2015/2016, organization Urgenda has filed and subsequently won a law suit in the Court of First Instance against the Dutch state on behalf of itself and 900 Dutch citizens. The Court ruled that the Netherlands has to step up efforts on greenhouse gas reductions, in line with international treaty obligations to this effect.223 This goes again to the need to respect international environmental safety levels that help to ensure respect for human rights, including in the area of health. The effects of climate change for the Netherlands, as listed in the Urgenda case, are considerable.224 Still, the Dutch State decided to appeal the ruling of the Court of First Instance.
This case has primarily been ruled as a tort case in Dutch law, however civil and political human rights law was judged to be relevant.225 The implications of ICESCR were not discussed by the court. Submitting parties consider this reporting cycle an excellent opportunity to clarify the great importance and implications of the ICESCR in matters of climate change as well, in particular ‘the right to health’.226 The applicability of the right to health in climate change, and the severe health effects of climate change, was also affirmed by the UN Human Right Council recently, and in the preamble of the UNFCCC Paris Agreement of December 2015.227 Similar to the issue of air pollution, there are many ways in which the human right to the highest attainable standard of health obligates the Dutch State to respect/protect health in its territory, eg. by regulating (third party) emissions. Preventive measures and meeting international commitments on greenhouse gas reductions are still a key strategy and prime concern according to the IPCC. There can also be an extra-territorial component to the efforts expected of States in protecting life and health of people in other countries, as well as at home.
The submitting parties recommend the Committee to require the Government to:
Take dedicated national action on greenhouse gas reductions and meet, at a minimum, internationally required and agreed reduction targets for mitigating harmful climate change;
Continue inventarizing the negative health effects of climate change which can no longer be averted, and introduce adequate health plans and strategies to cope with the extra health burdens of climate change, especially for vulnerable groups (elderly, sick, infants). This may include ‘vulnerability mapping’, as suggested in IPCC reports, and lead to urban interventions to address heat islands, instalment of airco’s, or plans to deal with new/ increased diseases.
Article 13 ICESCR
1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to education. They agree that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. They further agree that education shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
2. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize that, with a view to achieving the full realization of this right:
a) Primary education shall be compulsory and available free to all;
c) Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education;
d) Fundamental education shall be encouraged or intensified as far as possible for those persons who have not received or completed the whole period of their primary education;
e) The development of a system of schools at all levels shall be actively pursued, an adequate fellowship system shall be established, and the material conditions of teaching staff shall be continuously improved.
3. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.
4. No part of this article shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principles set forth in paragraph I of this article and to the requirement that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.