The Lawyer Who Sued to Reduce Dutch Emissions

Dec. 10, 2015, 11:24 PM

Rick Mitchell, Big Law Business

The legal community needs to do more in the fight against climate change, said a lawyer who recently won a court order forcing the Dutch government to strengthen its climate policy.

The lawyer, Roger Cox, led efforts to convince a judge in the District Court of The Hague to rule that the Dutch government must implement policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 25 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels.

Cox, a commercial contract law partner at Paulussen Advocaten in Maastricht, Netherlends, sued the Dutch government in late 2014 on behalf of Urgenda Foundation, an environmental advocacy group, and 900 individuals who claimed that by failing to take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the government was mistreating its citizens and could have even been infringing on their human rights.

“It has amazed me that the legal community in general, not just law firms, has been quite distant from what could be the most important issue of our time,” said Cox, in an interview with Big Law Business at this year’s international COP-21 climate talks. “I think the community can play a bigger role in solving this problem.”

In June, a three-judge panel of the court’s Chamber for Commercial Affairs ruled on Cox’s case, ordering the government to implement measures to reduce Dutch emissions.

[caption id="attachment_6164" align="alignleft” width="269"][Image “Rogercox1" (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Rogercox11-e1449789599959.jpg)]Roger Cox standing in front of artist Olafur Eliasson’s “Ice Watch” in Paris.[/caption]

After Cox’s recent court victory, he is now encouraging other lawyers to use the court system to force governments to implement changes in policies on greenhouse gas emissions and clean energy.

In his own case, Cox said he argued that the Dutch government, by failing to maintain adequate climate policies, had violated its “duty of care” to its citizens, under longstanding civil tort law, to protect the environment and in-habitability of the country.

He laid out his plan for using the courts in a 2011 book. “I always thought that once we get a national verdict like this, there will be cross-fertilization to other national courts,” said Cox.

“That is exactly what we see happening now in Pakistan,” and other national courts, including in the U.S., he said.

In March, Cox filed a similar lawsuit in Belgium, and is in touch with litigators, labor unions and NGOs in Canada, Ireland, Italy, the U.K. and the U.S. seeking to do the same in their countries.

In the U.S., Cox said he has communicated with the Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust Foundation, which is suing the federal government over climate change.

Cox, who graduated Leiden University Law School in 1994, said he specializes in contract law for real estate and urban development projects and only began litigating for the climate in 2007, as a concerned citizen.

Lawyers “should use our field of expertise to help create pressure on governments to become more ambitious and adequate in addressing climate change,” he said.

Cox spoke standing beside artist Olafur Eliasson ‘s “Ice Watch” installation of melting miniature icebergs, in honor of the COP 21.

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