In many countries, groups of concerned citizens are taking cases through the courts to force governments and fossil fuel companies to take more decisive action to avoid global climate breakdown. The Irish Government is being taken to court by the group ‘Friends of the Irish Environment’. The case, known as ‘Climate Case Ireland’ is expected to commence on Tuesday 22nd January.
Friends of the Irish Environment describe it as “the first case in Ireland in which citizens are seeking to hold their government accountable for its role in knowingly contributing to dangerous levels of climate change”. The group is seeking to build on the successful case which their members took in 2017 to get recognition for an implied right to environmental protection in the Irish Constitution.
Friends of the Irish Environment now argue that the government’s approval of the National Mitigation Plan in 2017 was in violation of Ireland’s Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 (the Climate Act 2015), the Constitution and human rights obligations. They also claim that the Plan falls far short of the steps required by the Paris Agreement of 2015 on climate change.
The Irish case has been inspired by other climate cases globally. One of these is known as the ‘Urgenda’ case which was brought by a group in the Netherlands and 900 Dutch citizens against the Dutch Government. In October 2018, an appeals court upheld a ruling ordering the Dutch Government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 per cent by 2020, from benchmark 1990 levels. In the United States, 21 children are currently taking on the US Government in a climate case known as Juliana v. U.S. The lawsuit asserts that the Government violated the youths’ rights by allowing activities that harmed the climate – and demands that the government adopts methods for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Other countries in which cases have been filed recently include New Zealand, Switzerland, Norway, Colombia, Belgium and the Philippines.
In an article in The Journal.ie, Sadhbh O’Neill of Friends of the Irish Environment says that while their case “does not specify the means by which targets should be met, there is plenty of research showing that we will all benefit from the energy transition”. She goes to say that climate action demands a mobilisation of both citizens and government actions alike if we are to avert disaster and that we in Ireland “will face fines for not meeting EU targets – the Institute of International and European Affairs have estimated that Ireland could face fines between €3 -6 billion by 2030.”
Meanwhile, Chris Stark, Chief Executive of the UK’s ‘Committee on Climate Change’ which advises the British Government said the following last week: “The lesson from last year’s IPCC report is not – as some have said – that we have 12 years to respond to climate change, it’s that we must act immediately”.
Further details on Climate Case Ireland can be found at climatecaseireland.ie