On 13 March 2020, nineteen teenagers from across South Korea initiated proceedings against their government (the National Assembly of Korea and the President of Korea), arguing that insufficient emissions reductions efforts were violating their constitutional rights. Their constitutional complaint is currently pending before the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Korea.
They argued that, by not taking action to prevent the threats posed by climate change, the government had violated the right of younger generations to life and the pursuit of happiness (Article 10 of the Constitution), which they argue also enshrines the right to resist against human extinction, along with the right to live in a healthy and pleasant environment (Article 35(1) of the Constitution). They also contested inter-generational inequalities under the constitutional prohibition of discrimination (Article 11 of the Constitution) and invoked the duty of the State to prevent environmental disasters (Article 34(e) of the Constitution). In doing so, the applicants invoked the fatal risk posed by climate change and the irrevocable damage to be suffered by younger generations. As a major emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, they argued, Korea has an obligation to protect its citizens from the effects of climate change by taking stronger emissions reductions action.
No action has been taken in this case to date. However, on 30 December 2022, the Korean National Human Rights Commission issued an official statement to the President of Korea regarding climate change and human rights. Citing IPCC reports, UN findings, other instances of climate litigation (such as Urgenda and Neubauer) and the existence of different vulnerabilities, it found that “[a]s the climate crisis has far-reaching impacts on multiple human rights, including the rights to life, food, health and housing, the government should regard protecting and promoting the rights of everyone in the midst of climate crisis as its fundamental obligation and reform related laws and systems to address the climate crisis from a human rights perspective.”
Status of the case:
More information on the case:
For a recent press report, see here.
The submissions in the case, including an unofficial English translation of the complaint prepared by the applicants’ counsel, are available via ClimateCaseChart.
Constitutional Court of Korea, Do-Hyun KIM and 18 others v. South Korea, pending case filed on 13 March 2020.