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2021 Brazil Domestic court Emissions reductions Paris Agreement Right to a healthy environment

Thalita Silva e Silva and Others v. Minister of Environment and Others

Facts of the case:

This case was brought before the 14th Federal Civil Court of Sao Paulo by six youths as a popular action against the Brazilian Government, challenging Brazil’s updated ‘nationally determined contributions’ communication (NDC) that it submitted on 08 December 2020 pursuant to its obligation under Article 4.2 of the Paris Agreement. The petitioners argue that the NDC is regressive in comparison to its previous NDC, as it alters the baseline relative to which its emissions reductions targets for the years 2025 and 2030 were to be calculated. Both the initial and the updated NDC provided for a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 37% by 2025, and 45% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, but the estimated emissions for the base year 2005 was increased from 2.1 to 2.8 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent pursuant to an update in Brazil’s national GHG inventory report.

The petitioners contended that this regression in the updated NDC constituted a violation of Article 225 of the Constitution of Brazil, which provides for the right to an ecologically balanced environment. They further argued that there was a new GHG inventory report which estimated the 2005 emissions levels to amount to 2.4 billion tonnes rather than 2.8 billion tonnes as per the previous inventory report, and since this new report was published before the updated NDC was communicated, the updated NDC stands to be quashed in any case. The respondents contested the courts’ jurisdiction on the ground that the claim concerned an act of the Brazilian government at the international level. They also contended that the NDC in question met the criteria of progression and highest possible ambition.  

Date of decision:

28 May 2021

Admissibility:

The Federal Civil Court of Sao Paulo found that it was competent to adjudicate the case as per Article 109, Item III of the Constitution of Brazil which provides federal courts the competence to hear cases based on a treaty between the Union and other States or international bodies.

Merits:

The Federal Civil Court of Sao Paulo summarily dismissed the plaintiffs’ request for injunction on the count that the updated NDC maintains the emissions reduction targets specified in the previous NDC, and that the change in the estimated emissions during the base year in different national inventory reports was normal and expected in light of improvements in scientific understanding and techniques. It also highlighted that the Paris Agreement requires parties to periodically update their national inventories and inferred from this requirement that the targets in NDCs are to be understood in relation to the inventory available at the time of communicating them. The Court also considered the updated NDC to be ambitious as it contained a carbon neutrality commitment.

Status of the case:

The petitioners have appealed against the decision of the Federal Civil Court.

Suggested case citation:

Federal Civil Court of Sao Paulo, Thalita Silva e Silva & Ors. v. Minister of Environment & Ors., Ação Popular nº 5008035-37.2021.4.03.6100, decision of 28 May 2021.

Case documents:

Petition (in Portuguese)

Decision of the Federal Civil Court of Sao Paulo (in Portuguese)

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