7 August 2020
A week ago today, I found myself in the Supreme Court, masked up and socially distant from the other people in the room.
Not long after setting up my laptop and notebook, the live zoom session for the judgment started on the monitor set up beside where judges would have sat in the before times.
People filed in digitally for the session at the stroke of ten and members of the Court beamed across the screen as they spoke.
When Chief Justice Frank Clarke started to read the ruling’s conclusion, my typing skills tried to keep speed with the words as they came. But then I remember we would get a copy of the document, so I stopped and took stock of what was happening.
The Supreme Court had sided with Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE). The 2017 National Mitigation Plan was quashed by the highest court of the land, and the Government would have to make a new plan, one more ambitious and more specific in how it would reach a 2050 national transition objective.
Then the Chief Justice asked the other members of their Court to state their opinion of the ruling.
While you could count on nearly one hand the amount of people in the room that morning, you felt the weight of history gain speed with each affirmation of agreement.
It was landmark. It was unprecedented. It was momentous. It was every adjective that’s been used over the past week.
But most importantly, it was the hard-fought work of those who had been on the case for years.
And the degree of public attention on the case? A lot of that had to do with the tireless campaigning activists have been doing, too.
So we spoke to some of them over the past week to see what their reaction was and what the decision means going forward. Here’s what they had to say.
Note: these quotes have been edited for clarity and length.
Clodagh Daly – Climate Case Ireland Spokesperson
So I was actually in my kitchen when the verdict was delivered virtually. Two of my colleagues came over to my house and we tuned in together. We were extremely nervous and very excited.
It was just so unexpected, because our hearings in the Supreme Court were just only last month – so it was an exceptionally quick turnaround by the court.
It was just an incredible moment, especially to hear one judge after the other declare their agreement with the ruling.
I immediately burst into tears and then there was a flood of a complete frenzy of calls and emails and texts and it’s just been mad.
We’re just absolutely delighted and we’re looking forward to seeing how the government plans to reduce emissions substantially in the short term.
The ruling, among other things, confirms that developed countries like us have to take the lead in reducing emissions and we know that in Ireland it’s technologically and economically feasible to do so.
The Supreme Court has affirmed that there is no legal basis for a lack of political will. The government now needs to step up and reduce its emissions in the short term.
Tony Lowes – Friends of the Irish Environment Director
I’d say trepidatious was how I was feeling that morning. I hate judgment days. I know you’re supposed to be excited, but I find that my blood runs cold. It all depends on such variables and things you can’t be sure on.
From the very beginning, we thought it would end up before the Supreme Court. But of course, the loss in the High Court [in September 2019] was dreadful. It was one of the lowest points of my life walking out of the Court after that. But of course, you have to be cheerful and Clodagh [Daly] was great in the aftermath of that.
My heart was in my boots after that High Court ruling, but Clodagh was saying to RTE, “don’t you worry”, and she was so lovely and cheerful.
But when the judgment came from the Supreme Court, I felt elevated. We weren’t expecting a win, that’s for sure. I mean you hope for one, and Andrew Jackson did a stunning job with the help of Urgenda and Dennis van Berkel.
They both went well beyond the call of duty for this case.
And that’s in my mind the most inspiring thing of all this – the way people have helped and the way the whole collective was involved. It’s heartwarming to see the way people will put themselves out there for something they believe in. It’s just amazing.
Andrew Jackson – the lawyer who instigated the case
The aims of Climate Case Ireland were two-fold from the outset.
First, to win in court, quashing the National Mitigation Plan and requiring a more ambitious Plan to be drawn up; and second, to create a focal point around which the climate movement could coalesce and grow in Ireland, helping to transform the conversation around climate action.
That more than 20,000 members of the public signed in support of the case is a testament to the movement that built around the case.
I hope the Supreme Court’s judgment inspires others at home and around the world, just as the Urgenda case and others inspired us.
The judgment sends a clear signal that governments will be held accountable if they do not take the required action. That means achieving significant emissions reductions in the short-term as well as the longer-term.
The Government needs to follow the science, and it needs to secure a Just Transition.
Sadhbh O’Neill – Former Spokesperson and Campaign Coordinator for Climate Case Ireland
We in Stop Climate Chaos would like to congratulate our member organisation FIE for taking and winning this case. We have seen that many climate cases across Europe have faltered due to legal impediments or lack of funding.
Litigation is slow, costly and risky. The Irish case highlights the importance of supporting environmental groups that take legal actions to protect the environment on behalf of all of us, especially when the State is failing to do so.
The Supreme Court decision recognises the importance of public engagement as a mechanism to provide political and statutory accountability, and we look forward to a new national climate plan being open to public review before it is adopted.
It is essential though, that the requirement to now prepare a new National Mitigation Plan does not distract the Government from urgently implementing its commitments in the Programme for Government to publish a new climate bill within 100 days to strengthen the statutory framework underpinning climate law, and to introduce a system of 5 year carbon budgets delivering emission reductions of 7 per cent per annum on average by 2030.
Plans are vital – but we need to see actions to cut emissions in the near term from fossil fuels and reactive nitrogen which are driving Irish greenhouse gas emissions.
Dr. Lorna Gold – Applied Social Studies Lecturer in Maynooth University
I’m absolutely thrilled to see the outcome for climate campaigners in Ireland who’ve worked so hard over the past ten years to change the policies of numerous governments. This is a major, major breakthrough.
I was part of many groups who campaigned in the run up for 2015 for climate legislation and we were quite dubious at the time as to whether this legislation would have enough teeth to make a difference.
So this ruling really proves that the Act does in fact have teeth and is able to overturn policy decisions. That’s such a significant outcome, not just for Ireland, but potentially for many other countries across the world.
We have to wait now to see what the new government does with this ruling. I’m hopeful seeing Minister Eamon Ryan in government, who has long campaigned for climate action while he was out of government and as the Green Party leader, so now he has the backing of science and he also has the full backing of Irish law.
Sso there’s no excuses, really. It’s time for Ireland to take the big step forward and to put this ruling into action and to develop a National Mitigation Plan that will deliver the change we need.
Saoi O’Connor – Fridays for Future climate activist
The judgment was really positive. It’s obviously not the end of the road, but it was good to have a win for all of us.
It was so encouraging and huge props to everyone who’s worked on it. They’ve been amazing and we’re really grateful for the work that they’ve done.
It was really nice to be able to go to my friends internationally with Fridays for Future and other climate strikers and be able to say we have good news from Ireland, for once.
It’s not often that we get to do that, and it was pretty cool.
Want to find out more about the case? Check out our explainer on the ruling and what it means going forward.