Landmark climate case against the Irish State pushed back until New Year

Published by Niall Sargent on

December 13th, 2017

A landmark legal challenge brought against the Irish Government for alleged inaction to tackle climate change has been pushed back until the end of January 2018 at the request of the State.

The case brought by environmental group Friends of the Irish Environment was due to first appear before the High Court yesterday. The state, however, requested that the hearing is adjourned to give it more time to prepare its written reply due to the complexity of the issues raised in the case.

FiE’s legal team consented to the adjournment of the case, which will now be heard on 30 January, 2018. The Cork-based 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.

In its first annual review released last week, the Climate Change Advisory Council said that Ireland is not on track to meet its short-term emissions targets or to decarbonise its economy by 2050 without major new policy initiatives. The 2018 Climate Change Performance Index also singled out Ireland as the worst performing country in Europe for taking action to tackle climate change.

FiE’s Director Tony Lowes told The Green News that the case should “proceed rapidly” in the New Year as Government action to address climate change is “urgently needed”. He added that it was “hugely heartening” to see the “unprecedented turnout” of supporters at the High Court yesterday for what was an early procedural step in the case.

Several students from UCD and Trinity College Dublin’s Environmental Society were at the High Court yesterday, with a large turnout also witnessed at a talk on climate litigation in UCD last week.

“This case is for the public at large, and the support we’ve witnessed so far has been incredible,” Mr Lowes said.  “Students are particularly active in a way I haven’t seen since the 1960s, and this gives me great hope.”

Constitutional Right

In late November, the High Court recognised for the first time the constitutional right of Irish people to an environment that is consistent with the human dignity and well-being of citizens.

The judgement was made in relation to a separate legal challenge brought by FIE against a decision to grant the Dublin Airport Authority a five-year extension to a 2007 planning permission for the construction of a third runway at Dublin Airport.

While dismissing FiE’s challenge, Mr Justice Max Barrett recognised for the first time a constitutional right to environmental protection “that is consistent with the human dignity and well-being of citizens at large”. In his judgement, Judge Barrett said that such a right “is an essential condition for the fulfilment of all human rights”.

“It is an indispensable existential right that is enjoyed universally, yet which is vested personally as a right that presents and can be seen always to have presented, and to enjoy protection, under Art. 40.3.1 of the Constitution. It is not so utopian a right that it can never be enforced,” the judgement continues.

“Concrete duties and responsibilities will fall in time to be defined and demarcated. But to start down that path of definition and demarcation, one first has to recognise that there is a personal constitutional right to an environment that is consistent with the human dignity and well-being of citizens at large and upon which those duties and responsibilities will be constructed. This the court does.”

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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