Federal and regional authorities found guilty of negligence for failure to tackle climate crisis

In a verdict hailed as “historic” by the plaintiffs, a court in Brussels has found Belgium’s federal and regional authorities guilty of negligence in its policies to tackle the issue of climate change. However, despite its verdict, the Court of First Instance in Brussels decided not to impose any legally binding targets for the reduction of carbon emissions, saying this would breach the separation of powers. Campaigners have vowed to appeal against the judgment on this point.

In 2015 the environmentalist group Klimaatzaak (Climate Case) initiated legal action against the federal and regional authorities. The group was hoping to replicate the success of similar actions taken against the authorities in The Netherlands and Germany. More than 58,000 citizens joined the lawsuit, and it was ruled that they all had a right to be heard.

The group’s president Serge de Gheldere told the press agency AFP that this in itself was a unique victory.

In Thursday’s verdict the court ruled that in their climate policies the Federal Government and the governments of Flanders, Wallonia and the Brussels-Capital Region had “not behaved as generally prudent and diligent authorities which constitutes an offence”.

The court went on to say that by not taking all necessary measures to counter the life-threatening effects of climate change they had breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

A lawyer who acted for the campaigners, Carole Billiet, told the daily De Morgen the decision was ground-breaking. 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.”

The Federal Climate Minister Zakia Khattabi (Francophone green) said she respected the court’s decision but noted it was without financial or legal consequences.

She told journalists that “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."

Ms Khattabi added that the Federal Government had launched a monitoring system to check how federal policies were meeting climate objectives.


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