Friday 22nd November marks the day that Climate Case Ireland lodged an appeal for the dismissal of their High Court case from January 2019. The coalition members of Friends of the Irish Environment stated that an application has been made to both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. The group must lie in wait to hear whether the Supreme Court will permit the hearing of their case at this time. The appeal has been lodged with the hope that the court will overturn the High Court’s ruling, stated in September 2019, that current Irish climate legislation is not unconstitutional.
Climate Case Ireland was launched by Friends of the Irish Environment in 2018 in response to the National Mitigation Plan, which is an all-government plan aimed at decarbonising the Irish economy. The goals of the plan fall far short of the requirements of the Paris Agreement, which prescribes a reduction of 25-40% in carbon emissions by 2025. Climate Case Ireland claim that the government’s inertia regarding climate action is endangering its citizens and breaching the citizens’ constitutional right to a protected environment.
The case is part of a growing worldwide trend in climate litigation. In desperation, several groups have emerged brandishing law books instead of pickets to hold their governments accountable for their inaction on climate change. The catalyst in Europe for the spread of litigations filed was the landmark Urgenda case in the Netherlands. The judge ruled in favour of Urgenda Climate Case on June 24th 2015. The court demanded the government immediately take more effective action on emissions reduction by a minimum of 25% by the end of 2020; or they would be in breach of the duty of care, prescribed by the European Convention on Human Rights. The trends in climate litigation are nuanced. In a report conducted by the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, it was stated that strategic court cases against governments are garnering attention and success. There are an increasing number of climate litigation cases being filed in the US under the themes of federal government transparency, environmental review and permitting, municipality – led suits against fossil fuel companies, public trust doctrine and liability for failure to adapt.
Climate Case Ireland received a wave of support ahead of the January hearing. A petition circulated prior to the hearing garnered over 18,000 signatures in support and the courtroom was packed full of supporters on all four days of the proceedings. On the fateful September day, despite the unwavering public support and Mr Justice Michael MacGrath’s admittance that climate change is a very serious issue, the case was dismissed. The decision was made on the basis that current legislation does not directly jeopardise the public’s right to a safe environment and should not be viewed in isolation of other climate policy measures. He also referred to the separation of powers, stating that it would be inappropriate for the courts to prescribe how the government ought to legislate.
With Ireland traditionally being a laggard in Europe on climate policy, FIE hope to fight the decision made by Mr. Justice MacGrath and have the ruling overturned. The group hopes to ‘galvanise a movement pushing for ambitious and urgent action’.