Belgian court orders 55% emissions cut from 1990 levels

Court of appeal ruling means government has only until 2030 to reach target

A Belgian court has declared the country’s climate targets “clearly insufficient” and ordered the government to cut emissions faster.

In a powerful victory for climate campaigners, the Brussels court of appeal ordered Belgium to cut its planet-heating pollution by at least 55% from 1990 levels by 2030. By 2021, Belgium had cut its emissions by just 24%.

The court rejected arguments that Belgium’s impact on the climate crisis was limited by its small size and found its climate governance to date had violated human rights.

Zakia Khattabi, the Federal climate minister, said in a post on X that the judgment – together with the European Commission’s expected response to Belgium’s national climate and energy plan – “constitute levers to strengthen and give credibility to our climate policies”.

The court case, which was brought by the nonprofit Klimaatzaak on behalf of more than 58,000 claimants, has dragged on for years through Belgium’s legal system. The ruling builds on a previous verdict that found Belgium’s climate policy inadequate by ordering the government to cut emissions faster.

The governments will now have to set a 2030 target of at least 55%, a level of ambition greater than its current obligations of 47% under EU effort-sharing rules.

Scientists warn that the new target will still not be enough to keep extreme weather from rapidly growing more violent. An analysis from the Grantham Institute in March found that Belgium would have to cut emissions at least 61% by 2030 to keep the planet from heating 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures, the level for which world leaders have promised to aim. If the right to pollute were to be shared out more equally between everyone on the planet, Belgium’s cuts would have to be even deeper, reaching 81% by 2030.

Speaking to the Guardian last month, Khattabi said she knew that the science called for even faster action. “I know that, and I’m convinced of that, but I work on a political reality. And I will be happy if we achieve our goal of 55%.”

“Because of our institutional architecture, it’s difficult to have a national [climate] law,” said Khattabi. “Most environmental and climate policy is in the hands of the regions. The measures that we can take are to facilitate the work of the regions.”

World leaders are meeting in Dubai for the Cop28 summit to thrash out agreements on stopping climate change, adapting to its effects and paying for the damage it causes.

Per person, Belgians are some of the biggest polluters on the planet. But their ambitions to clean up their economy have lagged behind their neighbours. The Netherlands is shooting for a 49% cut in emissions by the end of the decade, France 50%, Germany 65% and the UK a 68% cut.

But scientists have also praised Belgium for its offshore windfarms, which are among the biggest in the world, and its efforts to electrify company car fleets, which are an important lever to cleaning up the transport sector.

Khattabi said she hoped pressure from civil society and industry would help speed up political shifts. “I’m on the ground all week and I meet the industries and companies who are moving. And thankfully, they are moving faster than politics.”


Photograph: Eric Lalmand/BELGA MAG/AFP/Getty Images