Dutch government in court for withholding aircraft CO2 documents

The Dutch government’s refusal to publish documents about a controversial CO2 standard for aircraft, among other issues, is being challenged in court by T&E member Natuur & Milieu. It’s alleged that, by continuing to withhold decisions and research about the CO2 standard, emission trends, biofuels and offset rules – all of which were drafted or developed behind closed doors at UN aviation agency ICAO – the Netherlands is in breach of EU law.

The lawsuit, supported by T&E and environmental lawyers ClientEarth, alleges that civil society and experts have been prevented from examining claims of ICAO’s effectiveness in addressing aviation’s climate impact. ICAO’s performance is a contentious topic in the aviation sector where emissions have more than doubled in the last 20 years. Aviation is responsible for an estimated 5% of manmade global warming.

The NGOs say the Netherlands government outsourced responsibility for a major source of its emissions to ICAO, which lacks basic transparency. The resulting CO2 standard for aviation is among the many environmentally ineffective measures pursued, and means the forecasted growth in aviation will undermine the goals of the Paris climate agreement. Both ICAO and the Dutch government now, inexplicably, refuse to publish decisions and research about the standard. The NGOs say this denies citizens and civil society their right to access environmental information under the 2003 Freedom of Access to Information Directive.

Natuur & Milieu’s head of programmes, Geertje van Hooijdonk, said: ‘Stricter standards for aviation are necessary. If we do nothing, aircraft emissions will triple by 2050. But if the government does not release the report of the ICAO environmental protection committee, we cannot make a full assessment of the CO2 standard and whether it and other ICAO measures will actually cut emissions.’

ICAO’s decision-making processes have long being subject to undue commercial pressures. Two-thirds of the observers on ICAO’s rule-making environment committee are industry lobbyists. Recently recovered emails showed Airbus’s undue influence in drafting the EU’s position on the CO2 standard, further highlighting the need for transparency in the process.

T&E’s aviation manager, Andrew Murphy, said: ‘We’re exclusively reliant on tidbits of information from ICAO and governments about how they are addressing aviation emissions. That makes it difficult for civil society groups and outside experts to examine claims about ICAO’s effectiveness. Only by making such reports public is it possible to conduct a fair assessment of ICAO’s efforts to take climate action.’

The lawsuit is being taken by Natuur & Milieu at Utrecht district court to appeal a previous decision by the Dutch government not to disclose the information.

ClientEarth’s clean air lawyer, Ugo Taddei, said: ‘Emissions from aviation have a global impact that cannot be ignored. The public has the right to access information on how emissions from aircrafts will be reduced and participate in decisions that affect their health and environment. By making these decisions behind closed doors, the Dutch government is breaking EU transparency rules and putting business interests before those of the planet as a whole.’