Irish climate case discussed at UN climate talks in Bonn

Published by Niall Sargent on

April 7th, 2018

Friends of the Irish Environment appeared at the UN climate talks in Bonn to discuss its “landmark” climate case against the Irish Government.

Speaking at the talks this afternoon, FiE’s Sadhbh O’Neill, who travelled overland to Bonn, discussed the environmental group’s legal challenge against the Government of Ireland and the Attorney General.

FIE’s legal challenge claims that the Irish National Mitigation Plan—one of the main planks in the Government’s climate change policy—does not do enough to reduce Ireland’s emissions and is a violation of Ireland’s Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015.

FIE also claims that the Plan violates the Irish Constitution and  human rights obligations, and falls far short of the steps required by the Paris Agreement on climate change.

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.

This is the “opposite of what’s needed”, said Ms O’Neill. “The Government has repeatedly acknowledged in the UN that to avoid dangerous climate change Ireland should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25-40 per cent by 2020 compared to 1990.”

She 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 wellbeing 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.

Commenting on the case, climatologist Professor John Sweeney said that Ireland’s current actions are “not producing the results needed” to fulfil its responsibilities under the Paris Agreement or UE targets.

He added: “Our increasing emissions make the Government’s reluctance to place the well-being of its citizens before short-term economic interests ever more apparent. There can be no ‘free riders’ as the climate emergency deepens – present and future citizens are entitled to seek climate justice.”

Wave of International Climate Cases

Ms O’Neill appeared alongside lawyers and campaigners representing four other climate cases from Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Norway.

The case is one of a series of cases that have been filed against European governments for failing to deliver climate policies in line with the Paris Agreement.

FiE’s case was strongly influenced by the Urgenda Foundation, a Dutch NGO that successfully sued the Dutch Government in 2015 over its low emissions reduction targets.

Also speaking at today’s event, Dennis van Berkel, Legal Counsel to the Urgenda Foundation, said that NGOs and the public can help push politicians to fulfil their Paris commitments and legal duties to “protect us from climate chaos”.

“Unfortunately, despite protests from the opposition, scientists, lawyers and citizens, the [Dutch] Government has appealed the judgment, even though it has been drafting new policies to comply with the Urgenda judgment. On 28 May, we will be back in court,” he added.

Serge de Gheldere, of the NGO Klimaatzaak in Belgium also pointed out that the Belgium climate case has more than 35,000 co-plaintiffs.

“It is the biggest and most important lawsuit Belgium has ever seen, showing judges that our
demands are not on behalf of a few hippies, but legitimate legal claims,” he added.

A new report from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment found that over 1,000 climate cases that have been filed worldwide to date.

The report finds that the “new wave of strategic court” cases could have “significant impact” in holding governments and large greenhouse gas emitting industries accountable for climate change.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London