High Court environmental rights constitution

Supreme Court rules in favour of Climate Case Ireland

31 July 

In a historic ruling, Friends of the Irish Environment have won their case against the State as the Supreme Court has ruled in their favour finding the Government’s plan to address climate change inadequate. 

In a unanimous ruling, the Court found that the 2017 National Mitigation Plan falls “well short” of the specificity that would be required to comply with the 2015 Climate Act and subsequently quashed it. 

Under the Climate Act, the government has committed to pursue, and achieve, the transition to a “low carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by the end of the year 2050”. 

A new plan must be now made and the ruling noted that “an identical plan cannot be made in the future”. 

This new plan, when formulated, must cover “the full period remaining to 2050”, the Court ruled. 

The world must reach carbon neutrality by 2050, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned, in order to avoid catastrophic levels of warming. 

History of the case 

The Supreme Court heard the appeal from FIE on 22 and 23 June and argued that The Climate Act requires the Government to produce national mitigation plans every five years, which must specify the manner in which the 2050 transition objective will be achieved.

However, as FIE pointed out, Ireland’s emissions have increased by about 10 per cent over the period 1990 to 2020, and the Plan actually allows for a rise in emissions over its life (2017 to 2022). 

As a result of the failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, FIE continued, the government is not only breaching its national and international commitments, but that its inaction infringes human rights. 

The State responded that the Act does not mandate any interim emissions reduction targets and that the Plan is only an initial step in reaching the 2050 transition objective. 

The case was first brought before the High Court in January 2019 where FIE argued that the National Mitigation Plan is a clear breach of constitutional and human rights, including the right to an environment consistent with human wellbeing and dignity. 

In the High Court judgment released in September, Justice Michael McGrath said that it is clear that climate change is a very serious issue facing both Ireland and the world. 

While also accepting that an unenumerated constitutional right to a healthy environment does exist for the purpose of this case, J MacGrath said that he was not satisfied that the making of the plan itself impacted on the right. 

He said that it would also be inappropriate to view the plan in isolation from the Climate Act under which the Plan was created. “The plan is but one, although extremely important, piece of the [climate policy] jigsaw”. 

In relation to the constitutional rights FIE raised, Chief Justice Clarke ruled that such a right cannot be derived from the constitution itself and that “state obligations may be relevant in environmental litigation to a case in which those issues would prove crucial”.