Belgium faces fines of €1 million for every month that it fails to meet climate targets as part of a massive trial in the former NATO headquarters kicking off today.
The case, brought forward by vzw Klimaatzaak with the support of a reported 58,586 people in Belgium, is demanding that the authorities fulfil the promises made in their respective climate policies, and for them to be fined if they do not.
“We cannot keep saying that the transition is not feasible. We have a very strong case today,” Francesca Vanthielen, one of the founders of Klimaatzaak, told Het Belang van Limburg.
The climate targets set by the three regions and the federal government are not legally binding, which means that there are no real consequences if they do not meet these targets.
The plaintiff argues this should change, and that a penalty of €1 million should be imposed per month that the governments fail to meet the targets.
They are specifically asking for the emission of greenhouse gases in our country to be reduced by at least 42% by 2025 and by 55% by 2030.
In line with the objectives set out by the Paris Climate Agreement and the European Green Deal, the group argues that by 2050, our country should be completely climate-neutral.
The lawsuit was first brought forward seven years ago, in 2014, but due to language issues – the former Flemish Minister for the Environment Joke Schauvliege appealed against the legal proceedings taking place in French – it was delayed for years.
Belgium was at the time the second country worldwide where such a climate case has been launched, following the Netherlands, resulting in the Dutch government having to withdraw the licenses of and impose restrictions on four coal-fired power stations.
The success of this court case leads Bernard Vanheusden, professor of environmental law and rector of Uhasselt to believe that the case in Belgium could be successful.
“Those two cases are almost identical: the claims and subpoenas, on violated articles in the constitution and in the Convention on Human Rights, for example, are the same,” he told VRT News.
However, he said it may be too little too late, but that it is a strong signal from a large group of citizens to the government that it should be paying attention to this.