EXCLUSIVE: Wind farm owner launches court challenge against Ontario government

Ontario Environment Minister Jeff Yurek at Queens Park in Toronto on April 11, 2019. Photo by Christopher Katsarov

Forty kilometres to the south of Ottawa, a once-bustling construction site of partially built wind turbines has ground to a halt.

Nation Rise Wind Farm, nestled among dairy farms and fields of corn, was three months away from completion when Ontario Environment Minister Jeff Yurek cancelled it earlier this month, citing concerns over possible risks to local bat populations. The company behind the site, EDP Renewables, must lay off the 200 employees working on Nation Rise just before the holidays, and stands to lose the $230 million in capital it has already sunk into the project.

But EDP Renewables has now launched a court challenge to try to overturn the province’s decision, alleging it was fuelled by politics instead of evidence, National Observer has learned. The government’s move clashes with earlier testimony given by the province’s own experts, according to the application filed in Ontario Superior Court on Dec. 10.

“To do this so late in the game is very, very damaging,” said Tom LoTurco, director of development for EDP Renewables in Eastern Canada and the United States.

“(Yurek) didn’t use science… he abused the process.”

The company is seeking judicial review of Yurek’s decision ⁠— essentially, asking a judge to overturn it. Not only did Yurek rely on “hearsay” and ignore best-in-class measures to protect bats from harm, EDP Renewables alleges, the minister also didn’t use sound legal reasoning.

As proof that the fight isn’t about bats, LoTurco points to an interview Premier Doug Ford gave on Global News Radio 640 on Dec. 16: “If I could tear up every wind turbine in this province, I would,” Ford said.

It’s also not the first time Ford’s government has axed a half-built wind farm ⁠— the White Pines project in Milford, Ont., was one of 750 renewable-energy projects to be cancelled in July 2018, costing taxpayers $230 million so far.

If EDP Renewables were to seek further legal action to recover its lost capital from Nation Rise, that number could double.

Andrew Buttigieg, a spokesman for Yurek, declined to answer detailed questions from National Observer, “as the matter is now under judicial consideration” and the province hasn’t yet responded in court to EDP Renewables’ application. But in Yurek’s Dec. 4 letter explaining the decision to revoke its environmental approval, the minister said he believed the project would seriously harm local bat populations, disagreeing with experts who said otherwise.

Earlier this month, the Ontario government cancelled the half-built Nation Rise Wind Farm, citing concerns about local bats. The company behind the project says that claim isn’t rooted in science. #onpoli

LoTurco said the Ford government’s decision makes it difficult for any business to believe Ontario is really “open for business” as the province’s slogan says.

“A decision that was so egregiously made at such a late date, what it does is it erodes confidence for any kind of investor in Ontario,” LoTurco said.

EDP Renewables also alleges that Yurek created the argument he later used to cancel Nation Rise. When concerned citizens appealed the project to the environment minister, they didn’t mention concerns about bats ⁠— that came up later, when Yurek asked all sides to file submissions about it.

“The minister essentially looked at the grounds for appeal and said, ‘I don’t see anything here, let’s introduce something else,’” LoTurco said. “That’s shocking and appalling.”

Ontario Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the government must be more transparent about why it cancelled a clean-energy project that was so close to completion. The situation calls to mind the previous Liberal government’s gas-plants scandal, when the cancellation of two natural gas power plants cost the province more than $1 billion, he added.

“For the premier to rip up a contract for a low-cost source of renewable energy at a cost that could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars is so fiscally irresponsible,” he said. “It’s appalling.”

A batty wind battle

The Nation Rise Wind Farm southeast of Ottawa. Photo courtesy EDP Renewables 

Nation Rise had been in the works since 2016, when EDP Renewables took on the project from Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) after a competitive bidding process. Its plan to build 29 turbines delivering 100 megawatts of clean power received environmental approval in May 2018, under the previous Liberal government.

“We were procured competitively,” LoTurco said. “The price that Doug Ford (now) wants for energy, we were delivering.”

EDP Renewables also worked with municipal leaders so that the community would benefit. Over 30 years, it would receive $45 million from municipal taxes, a community benefit fund, charitable contributions and landowner payments.

About 70 landowners agreed to the plan, but it wasn’t without opposition. In the township of North Stormont, where the project was being constructed, a local Facebook group devoted to stopping Nation Rise has amassed nearly 500 members. An organization called Concerned Citizens of North Stormont also challenged the project’s approval last year at the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal, an independent body that hears such appeals.

Residents had been worried about noise and vibrations from the wind turbines, said Jane Wilson of Wind Concerns Ontario, a group that encompasses 30 community organizations opposed to wind-power projects, including Concerned Citizens of North Stormont. They were also concerned that a problematic number of birds and bats would die flying into the turbines’ blades.

“How do you do it right?” she asked. “It is an industrial use of the land… I don’t think you’d find anyone who would agree that this has been done the right way.”

Accusations of NIMBYism ⁠— NIMBY being an acronym for “not in my backyard,” often used as shorthand for people who oppose public projects near their homes ⁠— aren’t fair or accurate, Wilson said. “The concerns (residents) raised over and over were environmental,” she added.

Still, Nation Rise passed that scrutiny in January 2019. Based on expert testimony from both provincial experts and independent ones, the tribunal found that the project presented no danger to bats or any other component of the surrounding environment.

“It wasn’t just us arguing with our own experts, the ministry itself brought their own experts to defend the renewable-energy approval… it’s not like it’s us versus government,” LoTurco said.

Some wind farms do pose a risk to bats, but EDP Renewables said it took extra steps to avoid that ⁠— for example, it agreed to shut off turbines at low-wind speeds during bat migration, when bats would be in the most danger. It also did surveys in the area, which found that “bat presence and activity in the project area as a whole was low,” according to the company’s Dec. 10 court application.

The company’s plan also received a stamp of approval from Erin Baerwald, a conservation biologist and assistant professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, who had an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail on Thursday. “I never thought I’d come out swinging in support of the wind-energy industry, but here I am,” Baerwald wrote. “Ignoring science and making false claims in order to shut down a site undermines legitimate efforts to protect bats.”

Ryan Brown, EDP Renewables’ executive vice-president for the company’s eastern region and Canada, said he thought it was baffling to allege that the project wasn’t environmentally friendly. Headquartered in Madrid, Spain, the company is a global leader in solar energy, netting investments from high-profile companies like Salesforce.

“It’s not like we’re some fly-by-night developer,” Brown said. “We’ve had an excellent track record (on other Canadian projects).”

With the tribunal decision in hand, EDP Renewables started construction on Nation Rise in May. Concerns Citizens of North Stormont, meanwhile, appealed directly to the environment minister.

‘Shocking and appalling’

A windmill from the White Pines Wind Farm is seen in Milford, Ont., on July 19, 2018. Photo by Cole Burston 

Both sides filed written submissions to Yurek’s office in the spring. The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change also filed a package, endorsing the Environmental Review Tribunal’s support for Nation Rise, according to the EDP Renewables’ Dec. 10 court filing.

But in the interim, there was a cabinet shuffle, with Yurek replacing now-Finance Minister Rod Phillips as environment minister. And Yurek asked all sides to make extra submissions ⁠— including about the risk to bats, which Concerned Citizens of North Stormont hadn’t brought up in its appeal to his office.

Then, using evidence that the company alleges included “obvious factual errors,” “hearsay” and a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the measures in place to protect bats, the minister revoked the project’s approval.

For example, Yurek highlighted the presence of potential bat maternity colonies. But the company says the colonies don’t mean there’s a significant bat population in the area, or how likely bats would be to collide with turbines: “No witness even testified (to the Environmental Review Tribunal) about the maternity colony habitats or raised any particular concern in respect of them,” the Dec. 10 court filing says.

The company also alleges that Yurek didn’t have the legal authority to kill the project. To do so, he would’ve had to show that there were irreversible and serious impacts to bats, but instead, EDP Renewables alleges, he said he was acting out of caution.

Wilson, for her part, said concerned residents are glad Yurek reviewed additional evidence.

“The community is very grateful that the government listened,” Wilson said. “This just feels like Christmas.”

In his letter revoking Nation Rise’s approval, Yurek argued that Ontario didn’t need the electricity the wind farm would provide. And Wilson said Ontario’s power grid mostly relies on clean energy from hydro anyway, so wind farms are generally unnecessary.

Schreiner disagrees ⁠— though he said he respects residents’ right to oppose projects near their homes, he argues that the wind power could be useful in the coming years as Ontario loses some capacity due to nuclear power plants going offline. And although the previous Liberal government could have ensured there was more local involvement in Nation Rise, there are groups of people opposed to all sources of electricity.

“I don’t think there should be a local veto because if you had a local veto, then it would probably be pretty hard to build projects anywhere in Ontario,” he said.

Still, this particular fight isn’t over yet.

In its Dec. 10 court filing, the company said the suddenness of Yurek’s decision meant it had to quickly dismantle the Nation Rise construction site, creating possible safety risks. And any further construction delays could mean that the company would miss its deadline for the IESO.

If the company misses its deadline, it will lose $230 million in capital and another $5 million in security paid to IESO, EDP Renewables said. A hearing date hasn’t yet been set for the company’s application.


The Ford Fallout: “I’m dreading the day my grandchildren look at me and ask, ‘Why did you let this happen to us?

Dianne Saxe, the former environmental commissioner of Ontario, on the dissolution of her office.

Photo by Vanessa Heins

“After 40 years as an environmental and energy lawyer working all over the province for clients big and small, I gave up everything I had built to become the third (and, alas, last) environmental commissioner of Ontario. My job was to speak truth to power. I was the guardian of the Environmental Bill of Rights and provided all Ontarians with a reliable, independent, non-partisan assessment of the province’s energy, climate and environmental policies.

“There is no topic more important, because our home is on fire. My team produced 17 reports, designed and illustrated to make Ontario’s successes, failures and options clear and understandable. People across Ontario relied on those reports, and I criss-crossed the province meeting with hundreds of groups: community associations, farm leaders, real estate brokers, municipal councils, chemists, cabinet ministers and more. Our work inspired and strengthened policies and actions across Ontario, by documenting, for example, the disproportionate pollution of Indigenous communities, the filth poured into our lakes and rivers, and the energy we waste. In 15 languages, including three Indigenous ones, I gave Ontarians the tools to exercise their environmental rights. And, publicly and privately, I coaxed, cajoled, trained and embarrassed the government into fulfilling its own obligations.

“I was always treated with respect, until September 2018, when I delivered a report documenting the destructive effects of the Ford government’s climate actions. Soon afterwards, the province passed special legislation to abolish my office, break the contract all MPPs had unanimously made with me and crush my employees’ union. How did I find out about all this? From the CBC, when a reporter called to ask about my firing.

“Twelve of us lost our jobs; several remain unemployed. But Ontario has lost much more. The Ford government has revoked our climate law, cancelled cap and trade and abandoned two-thirds of our climate pollution target. They cut back flood protection. They broke 752 contracts for clean renewable power that we will soon need, cut environmental and energy conservation, allowed endangered species to be killed for a modest price and restricted the ability of municipalities to protect natural areas. They turbocharged urban sprawl, the major driver of Ontario’s climate pollution.

“On almost every part of my energy, environment and climate mandate, the Ford government makes claims that contradict the evidence and takes actions that worsen our future. No wonder they wanted to silence me.

“The auditor general now can, if she chooses, fulfill part of my old role, and I hope she will. One of her assistants has a title similar to mine, though he has no budget, staff or statutory role of his own, and he does not make himself available to the public. My job was to put the environment first; the auditor general usually evaluates things in terms of money. We’re in a climate and ecological emergency precisely because of the habit of judging everything in terms of money; doing more of that won’t get us out of it.

“Ontario was a climate leader until the Ford government was elected. We’ve since become an international embarrassment, and a place where no contract is safe. In 2018, the Nobel Prize for economics was awarded to a Yale professor who showed that carbon pricing is the best and cheapest policy. Yet Ford continues to waste money fighting the federal carbon price, breaking his own promise to drop that attack if Trudeau were re-elected.

“Fortunately, my three grandchildren are too young to understand what’s happening, but I’m dreading the day they look me in the eye and ask, ‘Why did you let this happen to us?’ What will I say?”  SOURCE


Michael Harris: Trump’s Impeachment and the Imperial Presidency

The brutal spectacle of watching Republicans kill their nation’s founding principles.


“Trump is the first president in U.S. history to issue a blanket refusal to Congress, when asked to produce witnesses and documents germane to a formal impeachment inquiry — and then have the chutzpah to claim he has had less due process than the witches of Salem.” Illustration by Greg Perry.

Donald Trump was impeached today.

The news usually doesn’t get much bigger than that. It’s only happened to three presidents in U.S. history.

But that isn’t the big story.

The big story is far graver than the procedural comeuppance of a morally bankrupt individual, though impeachment does come with an eternal smudge on the old CV.

The big story is that Donald Trump is now the moral compass of the Republican Party. They have chosen empowered corruption over the Constitution, party over country.

And make no mistake about it, corrupt Donald Trump most assuredly is. Impeachment is just the latest entry on his political rap sheet.

There is the Access Hollywood tape, the Stormy Daniels payoff, rampant nepotism in the White House, ongoing violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, multiple sexual harassment allegations, nasty bromances with vicious dictators from Manila to Moscow, a handful of senior advisors convicted of crimes, and thousands of public lies since assuming the presidency.

And now this.

Out of his own mouth in a documented phone call to the President of Ukraine, out of the mouths of senior officials under oath during the impeachment inquiry, the incontrovertible evidence of a shakedown is there for anyone to see:

The president withheld military funds already approved by Congress for Ukraine, $391 million, until its president publicly announced a corruption investigation into Trump’s potential political rival in America in the 2020 presidential election — Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter. You scratch my back, I’ll grease your palm — Goodfellas stuff.

Trump’s own Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, testified that there was indeed a quid pro quo, that without the public announcement of the inquiry into the Bidens by Volodymyr Zelensky himself, there would be no White House phone-call, or chummy visit to the Oval Office so necessary to Ukraine’s national security — especially with the Russian bear at the door.

Sondland also testified that Trump ordered the quid pro quo through his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and that Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the president’s chief-of-staff, Mick Mulvaney all knew about it. But hey, get over it, right? Quid pro quos happen all the time.

Not according to Fiona Hill. The former U.S. National Security Council foreign affairs specialist testified before Congress that Trump’s National Security Advisor of the day, John Bolton, told her that he was not part of the quid pro quo offer to Ukraine which he described as a “drug deal.”

The new Republican Party cares more about sworn liars than sworn testimony. In the process, it all but disappeared today as the party of Lincoln. Abe freed the slaves; Trump locks up kids in cages.

Yet right there on national television, the GOP embraced the Liar-in-Chief, turned a blind eye to his documented abuse of office, walked away from its constitutional duty, and played to Fox News.

Fox is the network built on one of the three slogans in the dystopian masterpiece 1984: “Ignorance is strength.”

It doesn’t educate its viewers, it pushes their emotional buttons with ugly fictions.

The network doesn’t report the news, it makes it up.

Fox is the preferred destination of the fact-averse and the true-believers, the ones who saw Elvis just yesterday, and believe that Jesus is coming to Ohio.

And oh yes, who think that Trump is the Chosen One to protect them from the dusky hordes invading along the southern border — all those emaciated children and their hollowed-eyed parents.

Fox is the place where two and two is always five.

It is every bit as bad as that and worse. Here’s why:

What the House Republicans did today in overwhelmingly voting against articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, dismissing the factual evidence in front of them in an act of willful blindness, is nothing short of blowing up the Republic as Americans have known it up until now.

They have turned the presidency into a monarchy, and tried to transform their own institution into the rubber stamp of a self-seeking scoundrel. What Americans now have is a system of cheques and imbalances; lobbyists and lickspittles at the service of a tyrant. The country has undergone a sea-change.

Trump is the first president in U.S. history to issue a blanket refusal to Congress, when asked to produce witnesses and documents germane to a formal impeachment inquiry — and then have the chutzpah to claim he has had less due process than the witches of Salem.

Here are the facts.

Trump of his own accord chose not to be involved in the impeachment inquiry, advised witnesses under congressional subpoena not to testify, and turned down the invitation to have his legal representatives take part in the proceedings of the House Judiciary Committee. Does that sound like someone looking for the facts?

By voting against the article of impeachment dealing with Trump’s obstruction of Congress, the Republican Minority has relinquished its powers of oversight, reducing itself to a minion of the Executive Branch.

Bottom line? They voted against separation of powers today, which is the way America has rolled for two and a half centuries. They voted party, not country; self-interest, not national interest. They prostrated themselves in front of an imperial president.

The fix is in

Given that Trump was impeached by the Democratic majority in the House, why is that so terrible?

Because in a few months from now, Trump’s trial in the Senate will take place. It will be presided over by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Roberts, an appointee of Republican president George W. Bush.

The same court, by the way, will decide whether Americans ever get to see Trump’s tax returns. Trump has already appointed two members to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. As with everything else, the president has done his best to politicize the third branch of government — the judiciary.

Trump’s impeachment jurors will be the Senators themselves, the majority of whom are Republican. It would take two-thirds of the chamber’s 100 members to convict and remove the president.

That will never happen.

How do we know that?

Because the guy MSNBC calls Moscow Mitch, otherwise known as the Senate Republican Majority Leader, has already said so. Mitch McConnell says there is no chance the president will be convicted and removed from office; and he doesn’t want any witnesses called.

You read that right. Before the “trial” has begun, or the Majority has even sorted out matters of procedure with the Minority, Mitch McConnell has already announced the verdict.

In so doing, McConnell has completed the destruction of the Republican party begun today by the Republican minority leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy. These two men are the framers’ worst nightmare, lackeys of a corrupt executive branch. As a result of their handiwork, the U.S. Constitution will be left in partisan tatters, perhaps for good. And nothing will change in the White House.

All because a guy named Trump has every office-holding Republican in the land, and more than a few Democrats, shaking in their boots. They know Trump is vengeful and takes down numbers. They fear his reprisals. And should the president prove as popular with the base as he boasts ad nauseam, they fear losing their districts. If fear can turn a Lindsey Graham into a Trumpian Uriah Heep, what can it do to an entire country?

As with much in America, the movies provide some resonance on that very subject.

Jack Nicholson played George Hanson in the iconic 1969 film Easy Rider. Sitting around a campfire, Hanson had this to say to a biker-character named Billy, just before they were beaten by rednecks for being longhaired, dope-smoking, hippies:

“This used to be a helluva good country. I can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it.”

“Man,” Billy replies, “Everybody got chicken, that’s what happened.”

Not slashing emissions? See you in court

A pioneer in sustainable innovation explains why she has spent the past decade fighting the first lawsuit to force a government to act on global heating.

Marjan Minnesma and fellow plaintiff Anica van Staa, wait for the judges, to deliver their verdict in The Hague, Netherlands

The Urgenda Foundation’s co-founder Marjan Minnesma (right) and an 11-year-old co-plaintiff wait for a verdict in the Dutch appeals court in 2015.Credit: Peter Dejong/AP/Shutterstock

I live in a nation where more than one-quarter of the land is already below sea level. For much of the past decade, I’ve been on a journey for climate justice. With 886 of my fellow Dutch citizens, the Urgenda Foundation that I co-founded brought the first lawsuit aiming to find a national government guilty of failing to safeguard its people from the ravages of climate change. We have won repeatedly, at several levels of the court.

Our final win in the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in The Hague on 20 December is a fitting end to a watershed year for civil action on global heating (this article has been updated with the outcome). The case has inspired other national lawsuits that — along with those against corporations and investors — are creating a burgeoning toolkit of environmental jurisprudence. Together, these serve notice on contributors to the world’s still-growing emissions that their inaction is no longer defensible.

In 2011 I read Revolution Justified by lawyer Roger Cox (who later acted with lawyer Koos van den Berg for Urgenda in the first court). In the book, Cox argued that catastrophic climate change is a major threat to us and our children, and that governments are not working to prevent it. One of the few democratic ways to make states act, he suggested, is through the legal system.

What if judges read the facts? It would probably be obvious to them that climate change is a clear threat. Might they rule that ‘not acting’ is hazardous negligence that breaches a government’s duty of care towards its citizens?

That’s certainly how I felt. I had been at the first Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Berlin in 1995. The convention was the focus of my law thesis. In the intervening decades of trying to effect change as a scholar and champion of sustainable innovation, I’d also had three children. With every passing year of empty promises, growing greenhouse gases and rising temperatures, my attitude shifted from cerebral problem-solving to worrying for their future. I now give many speeches, around one-third of which are about the problem and two-thirds about solutions. But, most of all, I like starting projects that seem impossible, and finishing them to leave something concrete.

I decided to bring a lawsuit to force the Dutch government to do what it had said for years was necessary — namely, to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases by between 25 and 40% by the end of 2020, compared to 1990 levels.

Laggard’s letter

You can start a court case only if you have first tried to reach your goals in other ways. So, in November 2012, Urgenda organized a public seminar close to where the parliament of the Netherlands meets, in The Hague. In theory, the parliamentarians who visited could run straight back to the ongoing debate that day and demand of the government what we asked for.

Presenters that day included the outspoken US climate scientist James Hansen, who is now assisting in several court cases brought by groups of young people in the United States and Norway. Another was Urgenda co-founder Jan Rotmans of the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). He built the first integrated climate-assessment model, IMAGE, which has been used in international climate negotiations. The audience included politicians, members of the press and engaged citizens, to whom we explained the dangers of doing nothing and the overwhelming evidence of the severe effects of humans’ greenhouse-gas emissions on living conditions.

The seminar had little effect.

That month, we wrote a letter to the Dutch government demanding a 40% reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020. We got a friendly letter back. The government agreed that climate change is a severe problem and that it needed to take action. But, the government wrote, it “did not want to be a frontrunner”, claiming that such an approach could dent prosperity and businesses and raise carbon dioxide levels as a result.

This was richly ironic coming from a world-class laggard in sustainable energy. The Netherlands’ international reputation for being ‘green’ is thanks to cycling and recycling. When it comes to climate change, it talks a lot and does little.

At the time, out of the 27 nations of the European Union, only Luxembourg and Malta generated less energy from renewables than did the Netherlands. Owing to its rich reserves of fossil fuels in offshore natural-gas fields, as well as its massive ports, chemical industries, agriculture and use of coal, the Netherlands was listed 34th of the world’s roughly 200 countries in the league table of net emissions that year — more than 80% of all countries emitted less. In the most recent league table, from 2015, it is in 40th place. Looking at the biggest emitters of 2014–16 in absolute terms, the Netherlands was in the top ten for emissions per person, higher than China and way above India.

Suggesting that the nation is ‘too small to act’, as the state argued in court in April 2015, implies that most countries of the world should also do nothing.

Youth plaintiff Levi Draheim, rides on the shoulders of a supporter as he makes his way to a rally

Supporters of a US climate-change lawsuit brought by 21 young people joined a rally in Oregon in June 2019.Credit: Robin Loznak/Zuma Wire

Round one

In mid-December 2012, the Urgenda Foundation decided to sue the government. We invented ‘crowd pleading’: a cross between crowd funding and citizen science. We asked people to join and help us to look for arguments in court cases all over the world. The foundation gathered the 886 co-plaintiffs, all Dutch citizens, including children — the youngest of whom was 5 years old when we began. On 20 November 2013, we handed in the summons to the front desk of the Supreme Court in The Hague, demanding a 40% reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020, or — if this was not possible — at least 25% compared to 1990 levels.

After several rounds of written documents with arguments from us and from the Dutch state, we were called to a hearing at the District Court of The Hague in April 2015. Our hundreds of co-plaintiffs and attendant media could not fit into the court buildings. We produced our own live stream so people could watch together in buildings nearby and follow it at home from their computers. At the end of that day, the judges said they would give their verdict on 24 June 2015 — my 15th wedding anniversary.

We hoped we’d win, but we were not sure at all. We put our chances at perhaps 50%. I never doubted our arguments, but we didn’t know whether the judges would have the time and willingness to dive deep enough into the science of climate change.

At 10 a.m. on 24 June we were again in court, to hear the short summary of the three judges on our case. I sat at the front of the room watching the judges and trying to tweet the main conclusions. Halfway through the summary, I stopped tweeting because I started to realize that the judges were following our line of reasoning. I glanced at the lawyers to check whether I was right. They were concentrating too hard to catch my eye.

The judges agreed that the Dutch government had breached its duty of care by taking insufficient measures to prevent dangerous climate change impairing the living conditions of its people. They based their arguments on tort law (also called civil law) and the doctrine of hazardous negligence. Because the government had signed many documents from the UNFCCC and the European Union declaring that industrial countries should reduce greenhouse gases by between 25 and 40% in 2020, the judges stated that the Netherlands should at an absolute minimum reduce emissions by 25%. Perhaps 40% is necessary, they declared, but the upper bound is at the government’s discretion.

A second after the judges left the court room, it erupted with joy. People were yelling, crying, applauding and hugging. Hardly anybody had expected we would win.

The verdict was announced in Dutch and English simultaneously, which helped to spread the word. In half an hour, the news was all over the world. We were overwhelmed by the reactions. Calls flooded in from people from Canada to New Zealand. Some were crying on the phone, saying that they had almost given up, but now had hope again.

For Urgenda, the court case changed a lot. Begun in 2007 at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the foundation (now based in Amsterdam) had been a non-governmental organization that mainly worked on solutions to climate change for the Netherlands. In 2008, for instance, we imported the first electric vehicles from Norway and sold them to cities such as Amsterdam, while helping to create a network of charging stations. We kick-started the growth of solar power in the Netherlands by organizing the first collective buying initiative in Europe for solar panels and inverters. Our project ‘We Want Sun’ purchased 50,000 panels, which at the time brought down the prices for rooftop solar installations in the nation by one-third.

After the win, we were framed by journalists and many others as climate activists. They didn’t mean it as a compliment. But I took it as one: an activist is one who acts, just as we’d always done. We are still working on climate solutions, but many know us only from the climate case.

Round two

In September 2015, the government lodged an appeal with the court in The Hague, despite a spontaneous international campaign begging it not to — including messages from celebrities such as actor Mark Ruffalo (who has played the Hulk since 2012) and the model Cameron Russell. So began two years in which our lawyer, Koos van den Berg, produced hundreds of pages with more arguments to convince the appeals court. The second verdict came in October 2018, and again we won! All 29 grounds of appeal from the state were declined.

Better still, this day in court was even more damning for our government (and potentially others) than the first. The district court had ruled that the citizen suit could not base arguments on the European Convention on Human Rights because it was brought by an organization (the Urgenda Foundation) rather than by a human — notwithstanding that its co-plaintiffs numbered hundreds of people. The Court of Appeal disagreed. It declared that the Dutch government is obliged, under articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to protect inhabitants by reducing emissions by 25% by 2020. So now we had two duties of care, one from tort law and one based on human rights (a higher-order law).

Round three

Shortly after the second verdict, the government appealed again, this time to the Supreme Court of the Netherlands. This court always takes independent legal advice before ruling, normally from one person. In this case, everything was out of the ordinary, so two advisers were called upon: the deputy procurator general and the advocate general.

On 13 September this year, they delivered their advice: to uphold the earlier judgments. In 80% of cases, the Supreme Court follows the guidance it is given. But this journey has taught us to brace for surprises.

Meanwhile, six years have elapsed since we filed the case calling for action by 2020. Although the 2015 judgment spurred the state to set a more ambitious climate policy for 2030, little was done to meet the 2020 target. The government simply assumed that the judgment would be overturned on appeal. After the second win, that attitude finally changed. To implement the 2020 target, the government has taken measures to close one of the nation’s five coal-fired power plants, and has launched new subsidies for energy-saving activities and renewable energy. But with current national emissions reduced by only 15% from 1990 levels so far, a large gap still remains.

To provide a road map for change, Urgenda published a plan on 24 June — the fourth birthday of the first verdict (see go.nature.com/345d4zr; in Dutch). It included more than 700 organizations, including paper manufacturers, farmers, local sustainable-energy co-operatives and large environmental organizations. It set out 40 measures for reducing greenhouse gases by 25% from 1990 levels by the end of 2020. These included driving at 100 instead of 130 kilometres per hour, raising water levels in nature reserves and energy-saving options for the health and industrial sectors. The foundation later added another ten measures.

So there are now 50 ways for the government of the Netherlands to make up for its failure to protect its citizens from warming of more than 1.5 °C, as the judges of the Supreme Court decreed on 20 December that it must. The 700 partners are poised to help, once the government delivers the money and support that are needed.

It has been a long, hard road, with many ups and downs for the whole team, from tense discussions to nights without sleep. But I’m glad we stayed the course and inspired others around the world to say to their leaders: step up. SOURCE

People Have A Fundamental Right To Be Protected From Climate Change, A Landmark Court Ruling Says

The Dutch Supreme Court’s decision could have huge repercussions for how other countries tackle rising emissions.

Lukas Schulze / Getty Images

The Supreme Court of the Netherlands ruled Friday that the government must take urgent action on climate change to protect the fundamental rights of its people.

This decision came in a landmark case begun by the Dutch environmental group Urgenda in 2013, the first in the world to test whether citizens could use human rights law to force their governments to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

International human rights law obligates the Netherlands to reduce emissions, the court ruled, “because of the risk of a dangerous climate change that can also seriously affect the residents of the Netherlands in their right to life and well-being.”

“Today, at a moment when people around the world are in need of real hope that governments will act with urgency to address the climate crisis, the Dutch Supreme Court has delivered a groundbreaking decision that confirms that individual governments must do their fair share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” an Urgenda spokesperson said after the ruling.

Tessa Khan@tessakhan

Extraordinary and desperately needed good news: Dutch Supreme Court upholds historic ruling that Dutch government is legally required to significantly reduce emissions. Unbelievably proud of brilliant colleagues @urgenda

Rising sea levels are a serious threat to the Netherlands, one-quarter of which is on land that is already below sea level.

Urgenda had already won its case in two lower courts, and today’s ruling upholds a 2018 order that the Netherlands must slash emissions by at least 25% compared to 1990 levels by the end of 2020 in order to protect “the life and family life of citizens.”

The Supreme Court ruled today that the 2018 Court of Appeal decision is “definitively upheld,” and that the state has an obligation to “protect the residents of the Netherlands form the serious risk of climate change.”

The Netherlands has already been working to reduce emissions, including shutting one of its five coal power plants by the end of 2019, but getting to the 25% target next year could require drastic action. The Dutch government recently estimated it was only on track to reduce emissions by about 20% next year.

Jennifer Morgan

Thank you @Urgenda for scoring an enormous legal victory for climate protection!The Supreme Court has confirmed the landmark ruling forcing the Netherlands to take more ambitious climate action.This puts all laggard governments on notice: act now or see you in court.

Friday’s ruling could have an impact far beyond the Netherlands. The Dutch court based its decision in part on the European Convention on Human Rights, a treaty that is binding in 47 states including Russia and Turkey. That could allow citizens of those countries to use the Dutch decision to argue that European law is on their side in cases against their own governments.

“Governments will have to consider even more seriously that they have legal obligations with regard to combating climate change — and that they don’t take action they might be sued and required by courts to take legal and policy measures,” commented Joana Setzer, research fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics.

“The government has no discretion to violate human rights — it has a duty of care for climate change.”

Samuel Corum / Getty Images

Activists gather in Washington, DC for the Global Climate Strike protests on September 20, 2019.

Environmental lawyers also believe that a future case similar to Urgenda’s will eventually reach the top court created to enforce the Convention, the European Court of Human Rights, which has legal authority over every state that’s signed onto the treaty. When that happens, the Urgenda ruling will be a key precedent.

The Urgenda case has already had a global impact. At least a dozen similar cases have been filed in other countries in the past six years, including one in the United States still making its way through the courts. A few of these suits have produced significant victories. Judges in Pakistan and Colombia, for example, have ruled government has an obligation to take climate action in order to protect their citizens’ fundamental rights. SOURCE

The video below describes the basis of the 2015 decision.


The next generation of the internet is almost here—and it could even transform our farms

The 5G farm of the future will have real-time soil monitoring, connected tractors, remote veterinarian care, and more.

[Photo: Mauricio Alejo]

While the buzz around 5G is often focused on smartphones (and the technology’s promise of lag-free gaming and streaming), the cellular technology stands to hypercharge industries far beyond entertainment. With its high bandwidth, low latency (i.e., the ability to transfer lots of data with minimal delay), and high reliability, 5G is faster and more dependable than 4G, and so robust that it can replace wired connections—bringing everything from factory robots to fleets of autonomous vehicles online.

Also poised for big change is agriculture. Sensors and artificial intelligence could take some of the guesswork out of nature’s cycles, allowing farmers to remotely monitor weather patterns, livestock wellness, and soil nutrients, while autonomous driving and cloud computing could make equipment more efficient.

“Our ability to have machines sending data in both directions is really important,” says Lane Arthur, John Deere’s director of digital solutions. Add to it the fact that the U.S. farming industry has lost roughly 7 million workers since the 1950s, and you have a new frontier for Silicon Valley’s problem solvers: the farm of the future.


5x: How much faster 5G’s initial peak speeds will be, compared to 4G (aka LTE)

2035: The year 5G’s “full economic effect” will be realized globally, according to Qualcomm

33: The number of U.S. cities that currently have 5G connectivity*

Sources:What You Need to Know About 5G,” Consumer Reports (5G speed); Qualcomm 5G Economy Study (2035); “Here Are the Cities Where You Can Access 5G From Major U.S. Carriers Right Now,” Digital Trends, *as of 10/18/2019 (5G cities)