Families impacted by climate change challenge EU’s climate targets in the Courts

Published by Laura Matjusaityte on

May 25th, 2018

Families from across Europe have launched legal action against the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union for alleged failure to adopt effective laws to tackle climate change.

In the lawsuit to the European General Court, plaintiffs are asking the EU institutions to recognise climate change as a real threat to human rights and strengthen laws to reduce emissions.

The European families bringing the case all work in agriculture and tourism in the EU and further abroad and claim that climate change is affecting their livelihood, health, property and culture.

The plaintiffs claim that the EU’s existing 2030 climate targets to reduce domestic emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels are inefficient in respect with the real need to prevent the threat of climate change and not enough to protect people’s fundamental rights.

The families are supported by a range of non-profit organizations, scientist, and citizens who believe that EU can and must be more ambitious regarding its 2030 climate targets.

Scientists from Climate Analytics provide the evidence to the case on how the families are impacted by climate change and indicate that that EU is capable of reducing emissions by at least 50 to 60 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

The families are asking the Court to rule that climate change is a human rights issue and that the EU is responsible to protect their rights, the rights of their children and of future generations.

The grandfather of a French plaintiff family, Maurice Feschet, says that European politicians should take a step back, consider the principles of democracy, and listen to its citizens impacted by climate change.

The application asks the Court to void three EU regulations – the Emission Trading Scheme, the Effort Sharing Regulations, and Land use, Land Use Change and Forestry Regulation – which the plaintiffs see as ineffective in lowering emission levels and in breach of their rights.

The families state that the high levels of greenhouse gases that are still allowed to be emitted through these three regulations do not reflect the effort that the EU could put in reducing emission.

The lawyer representing the families, Roda Verheyen, said that they are putting their trust in the EU Courts and legal system to protect their fundamental rights which are under threat of climate change.

Sannar Vannar from the Swedish Sami Youth Association, Saminuorra, said that his culture and livelihoods are at risk due to climate change’s impact on reindeer populations.

“If we lose the reindeers, the Saami culture will be lost. Many of the saami youth want to be reindeer herders, but they cannot see a future. This is mostly due to the threat of climate change,” she said.

Carl Fechner, the Co-Founder of Protect the Planet, the organisation funding the case, said that the  People’s Climate Case is “more than symbolic act and speaks for all humanity”, especially for those, who are already affected by climate change.

Irish Climate Case

Last year, the Irish environmental NGO Friends of the Irish Environment brought a landmark legal challenge brought against the Irish Government for alleged inaction to tackle climate change.

The Cork-based environmental group obtained permission from the High Court in October to bring the lawsuit against the Irish Government, claiming that it has failed to take action to avert the threat of climate change.

The legal challenge claims that the National Mitigation Plan does not do enough to reduce our emissions, violating Ireland’s Climate Act, the Irish Constitution, and international human rights obligations.


Ireland has the third-highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the EU , and emissions are projected to increase by 7.5 to 10 per cent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.

Speaking at the UN climate talks in Bonn last month, FiE’s Sadhbh O’Neill said that the Irish State “refuses” to take necessary action despite the “consequences” of climate change “already hitting home in Ireland” with the likes of Ophelia and the ‘Beast from the East’.

She added that FiE hopes to build on its success in another case against the Irish Government in 2017, in which an Irish Court for the first time recognised a constitutional “right to an environment that is consistent with the human dignity and well-being of citizens at large”.

The climate case will next be before Ireland’s High Court for a procedural hearing on Tuesday 5th June. It is expected the case will be heard in full within the next year.

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Laura Matjusaityte

Laura is a first-year journalism student at DIT. She has an interest in the environment, veganism and literature.