State has ‘human rights obligation’ to lessen climate change impact

Published by Shamim Malekmian on

November 1st, 2018

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment has concluded that the Irish Government has “clear, positive, and enforceable obligations” to protect against breaches of human rights by climate change.

Affirming arguments made in a High Court legal case against the State taken by Friends of the Irish Environment (FiE), Professor David Boyd said that that failure to attenuate climate change amounts to a transgression of human rights.

FIE’s legal challenge claims that the 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.

In his landmark statement, Prof Boyd said that climate change adversely impacts the right to life, a right that the Irish Government is “legally obliged to respect, protect and fulfil”.

Prof Boyd concluded that the Irish State has “positive human rights obligations” to lessen the impact of climate change by rapidly reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

“It must reduce emissions as rapidly as possible, applying the maximum available resources. This conclusion follows from the nature of Ireland’s obligations under international human rights law and international environmental law,” he said.

High Court environmental rights constitution

The Four Courts Building Photo: Gary Barber

The Special Rapporteur also stated that in addition to taking necessary steps to meet climate targets outlined in the Paris Agreement, the Government has a responsibility to “strengthen that contribution as part of the collective effort to meet and/or exceed the targets” in the agreement.

FIE’s Sadhbh O’Neill welcomed Prof Boyd’s conclusions are “hugely significant” for the group’s case. “Ireland is under international scrutiny because we are not doing our fair share to reduce emissions,” Ms O’Neill said.

“Climate change poses real risks to a range of human rights, including violating the right to life, and the Irish government has a positive duty to protect these rights.”

FIE’s 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.

The 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.

The group submitted the UN statement to the High Court. The case is slated to be heard at Dublin’s Four Courts on 22 January 2019.

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Shamim Malekmian

Shamim is a Senior Reporter at The Green News and a contributing writer to the Irish Examiner, Cork Evening Echo and the Dublin Inquirer.