As the climate emergency continues to escalate at dizzying speed, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by shocking statistics and doomsday warnings. All over the world, governments are failing to take adequate action to stop the warming of our planet. Climate litigation is the growing global trend of people turning to the courts to force their governments to do better.
Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), an Irish charity committed to tackling climate change, have become significant players in Irish climate litigation. In 2017, they took a landmark case against the state over the proposed construction of a third runway in Dublin airport. Although they lost the case, the judgment recognised the existence of a constitutional right to an environment, and even went so far as to say an environment is “an essential condition for the fulfilment of all human rights”.
Fast forward to today, and FIE are back in court, as the driving force behind Climate Case Ireland. FIE are arguing that the unsatisfactory level of climate action currently being taken by the government is breaching the established constitutional right of Irish citizens to an environment, as well as many other constitutional and fundamental human rights. In an exciting development, they have recently been granted special permission for a “leap-frog” appeal. This means that the case will be permitted to go straight to the Supreme Court, as a matter of exceptional public and legal significance. A definitive Supreme Court judgment in favour of FIE would be hugely significant, and would compel the legislature to take immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
We are not the only ones waking up to the potential power of climate litigation. A case was recently won by an environmental NGO in the Netherlands, resulting in a court order mandating the Dutch State to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by the end of 2020. In the USA, a group of 21 young people filed a case in 2015 against the US government for knowingly contributing to climate change and violating their constitutional rights to liberty, life, and property. The country, whose withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation was announced by President Trump in 2017, is one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the world. The 21 climate activists are facing huge opposition from the Trump administration and the fossil fuel industry, but are continuing to fight their way through the court system. At a European level, ten families from different countries are bringing the People’s Climate Case before the Court of Justice of the European Union, asserting that the EU are also contributing to climate change and therefore violating fundamental rights to life, health, occupation and property.
According to latest analysis, nearly 30 countries all over the world have engaged with climate litigation. It is one of the newest and most powerful tools available to climate activists in order to demand change from national government. Due to come before the Supreme Court in June, Climate Case Ireland will be the third case of its kind in the world to reach the highest court of national law (other cases being the Dejustica case in Columbia and the Urgenda case in the Netherlands). A judgment in favour of FIE would result in a mandatory plan of action for the government, and would make Ireland a pioneering jurisdiction in vindicating the right to an environment. It is hoped that such a result would send a strong message to government, and inspire other climate litigants globally to bring similar actions.
Find out more about the case, receive updates on progress, and show your support by visiting the official website.
Photo by Kieran Lynam on Flickr
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