Why is the State in the dock over climate policy?

Published by Shamim Malekmian on

January 22nd, 2019

On October 23, 2017, Friends of the Irish Environment (FiE) obtained permission from the High Court to proceed with an unprecedented environmental legal case against the Irish Government.

This week, the High Court will finally hear the landmark case known as the Irish Climate Case where FiE hope that the courts will order the Government to take greater action to address climate change.

Members of the environmental group reason that the Irish state has substantially failed to assuage or avert the threat of climate change.

Specifically, FiE has rebuked the National Mitigation Plan as insufficient for reducing Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions, describing it as tantamount to a violation of Ireland’s Climate Act, the Irish Constitution and human rights obligations.

National Mitigation Plan

The Plan, devised by the State to tackle the issue of greenhouse emissions as well as meeting set national policy objectives by 2050, has received widespread criticism since its release in July 2017.

Critics claim that the plan fails to offer a tangible emission reduction pathway to 2050, impedes a crucial decision on the future of coal-burning and peat extraction and fails to offer a solution for curtailing agricultural emissions.

Just over half of the 41 actions under the Plan that were supposed to be completed by 2018 have been followed through. Incomplete actions include an examination of the impact of a carbon tax increase, finalising new wind energy guidelines and publishing a new public transport policy statement.

In June, a climate change performance index, published by the Climate Action Network (CAN), ranked Ireland as the second worst-performing EU country in terms of battling climate change, due to its inaction at national and European level.

Ireland also has the third-highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the EU with emissions projected to increase further by 2020, and again by 2030.

Clodagh Daly, one of the activists involved in the Irish Climate Case, has said that FiE is suing the State on behalf of younger generations who lack legal and legislative power.

“The Government is making decisions about our country’s future. Our leaders should have to answer to the increasingly urgent calls from youth to take action on climate change,” Ms Daly said.

“They are the ones who will be most affected by any further delays and they have the right to be heard,” she continued.

Climate Case Ireland team addressing media at the High Court Photo: Niall Sargent

Climate Case Ireland team addressing media at the High Court Photo: Niall Sargent

Climate litigation trend

Turning to the courts to challenge climate change policy has become a growing international trend.

In 2015, 900 Dutch citizens, together with Urgenda Foundation, filed a case against the Dutch Government for taking “insufficient action to keep them safe from dangerous climate change”.

The District Court of The Hague ruled in June 2015 that the Dutch government is required to reduce its emissions by at least 25 per cent by the end of 2020 compared to 1990 levels.

The Dutch government later appealed the verdict; however, the court upheld the landmark climate change ruling this past October.

In the US, 21 young students have brought a lawsuit against the federal Government over climate change inaction to the Supreme Court.

The case filed in 2015 seeks to hold the Federal Government accountable for its role in creating a “dangerous climate system” and asks the court to order federal agencies to address the issue. The American Supreme Court recently allowed the young plaintiffs to proceed with their lawsuit.

A similar case in France launched by four environmental NGOs recently garnered unprecedented support with over two million citizens signing a petition in support of the legal challenge.

FiE has invariably expressed support for said initiatives, recounting them as inspiration for the Irish climate case campaign.

Nicole Murray, the 11-year-old daughter of one of the coordinators of the climate case campaign group confirmed the significance of the campaign for the country’s youth.

She said: “I won’t have a vote for another seven years. But another seven years of greenhouse gas emissions will be a disaster. Children need their voices to be heard!”

The hearing for Irish Climate Case starts today and is slated to continue until the week’s end.

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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.