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The Climate Case: Belgium’s biggest ever legal proceeding begins on Tuesday

14:10 15/03/2021

Citizens and activists donned traditional court dress and took to the streets at the weekend for climate crisis protests across Belgium. The activities were staged in the run-up to the first hearing in the Climate Case (L’Affaire Climat/Klimaatzaak), the court case that sees 60,000 citizens accusing the federal government of not doing enough to reach environmental goals.

Protest activities were held around the country, with several taking place in Brussels. Some groups held a minute of silence for the climate, while a flash mob broke into dance on Mont des Arts.

Even Greta Thunberg got into the act, sending a photo in support of the case (above). “We stand here with our white bands and black tops because we are all lawyers for the climate,” according to the Climate Case campaign.

Organisers have been preparing the Climate Case for several years. Originally spearheaded by Belgian filmmaker Nic Balthazar and 10 other celebrities, citizens signed on in droves, and there are now 60,000 plaintiffs. It is the biggest court case in Belgian history.

They just ‘keep arguing’

“It is naive to think that if we occasionally eat organic foods or place another 10 charging stations for electric cars, we will save our planet, our prosperity and our well-being,” Serge de Gheldere, one of the people behind the Climate Case, told Knack. “This will only succeed if the government accepts its responsibility and creates a legal framework.”

The Climate Case is the ultimate means, he said, to force the government to set up a framework to meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement. “In recent years, climate regulations have been introduced in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland with interim targets and a binding timeline towards zero CO2 emissions. But here, politicians just keep arguing about climate ambitions.”

Those climate regulations in other countries to which he refers were sometimes the result of concerned citizens taking their government to court, just like is happening in Belgium now. In the Netherlands, the supreme court found in favour of climate plaintiffs, requiring the federal government to reduce emissions or be found guilty of human rights violations. A similar decision was handed down in France just last month.

Six years ago when the Climate Case was founded, it demanded that Belgium reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020. By the end of last year, the country had reached 20%. Now the demands are a 42-48% reduction by 2025 and a 55-65% reduction by 2030.

“That’s a lot,” Belgian actor Francesca Vanthielen, another of the main plaintiffs in the case, told De Standaard. “But if you don’t reach that, you abandon any hope of reaching zero emissions by 2050. And science tells us that that’s what we have to do to keep global warming at 1.5°C. It is in line with the Paris Agreement and European ambitions.”

Court convenes tomorrow in Brussels, and hearings are expected to last for 10 days.


Written by Lisa Bradshaw