Categories
Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Germany Paris Agreement Private and family life Right to a healthy environment Right to life

Luca Salis et al. v. Sachsen-Anhalt

Summary:
This constitutional complaint was brought by three young people against the German State (“Bundesland”) of Sachsen-Anhalt in the wake of the Neubauer v. Germany judgment of the German Bundesverfassungsgericht. It is one of ten separate constitutional complaints and one subsidiary popular complaint supported by the NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe against ten Bundesländer. They contest the State’s failure to chart a course towards greenhouse gas emissions reductions by adopting legislation on climate protection. The state abandoned efforts to adopt such a law after an initiative in this regard failed in 2013, relying on the Paris Agreement and the German Constitution. Like in the eleven related cases, the plaintiffs here argue that the Bundesländer share responsibility for protecting their lives and civil liberties, along with those of future generations, within their respective spheres of competence. According to the plaintiffs, the lack of legislation on climate action on the state level violates the German Constitution and the reductions regime under the Paris Agreement. They also submit that they have a fundamental right to defend themselves against future rights impacts caused by the lack of climate measures.

On 18 January 2022, the First Senate of the Federal Constitutional Court dismissed all eleven complaints for lack of adequate prospects of success. In alignment with its argumentation in Neubauer v. Germany, the First Senate recognized that the burden of CO2 emissions reductions must not be unilaterally offloaded onto future generations. However, the First Senate stated the individual legislators of the Bundesländer have not been been given an overall reduction target to comply with, even at the expense of freedom protected by fundamental rights. Thus, according to the First Senate’s decision, a violation of the obligations to protect the complainants from the dangers of climate change cannot be established. As regards to the Bundesländer, the First Senate clarified that they still have a responsibility to protect the climate, particularly by virtue of Article 20a of the German Constitution.

Rights invoked:
The applicants invoked violations of freedoms guaranteed under the domestic Constitution, especially those in Art. 2(2) of the German Constitution (right to life and physical integrity and freedom of the person), in combination with Article 20a of the Constitution (protection of the natural foundations of life and of animals). They invoked these rights in their ‘intertemporal dimension’, i.e. taking on the framing of the Neubauer case, which considered that failure to act now on climate change means excessively impacting future freedoms.

Date of decision:

18 January 2022

Suggested citation:
German Bundesverfassungsgericht, Luca Salis et al. v. Sachsen-Anhalt, Decision of the First Senate of 18 January 2022 – 1 BvR 1565/21 et al.

Related proceedings:
For the other related cases see:

Lemme et al. v. Bayern

Emma Johanna Kiehm et al. v. Brandenburg

Alena Hochstadt et al. v. Hessen

Otis Hoffman et al. v. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

Leonie Frank et al. v. Saarland

Tristan Runge et al. v. Sachsen

Jannis Krüssmann et al. Nordrhein-Westfalen (NWR)

Cosima Rade et al. v. Baden-Württemberg

Matteo Feind et al. v. Niedersachsen

Links:

For the decision in German, see here.

Categories
Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Germany Paris Agreement Right to a healthy environment Self-determination

Marlene Lemme et al. v. Bayern

Summary:
This case is one of ten separate constitutional complaints and one subsidiary popular complaint supported by the NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe against ten German States (“Bundesländer”). It was brought by ten youth plaintiffs concerning the codification of the adjusted climate goals brought about in response to the Neubauer v. Germany judgment of the German Bundesverfassungsgericht. According to the applicants, in their constitutional claim, the German States (“Bundesländer”) share responsibility for protecting their lives and civil liberties, along with those of future generations, within their spheres of competence. They argue that the lack of legislation on climate action on the state level violates the German Constitution and the reductions regime under the Paris Agreement, and that they have a fundamental right to defend themselvse against future rights impacts caused by the lack of climate measures.

The Bavarian Climate Protection Act (Bayerisches Klimaschutzgesetz) aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030. It also aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and requires Bavaria to offset emissions after 2030. This has been implemented through a climate protection program. According to the plaintiffs, the lack of a deadline of adaptation strategy, and the failure to provide differentiated targets or instruments for implementation of compliance, mean that the Bavarian law falls short of the Federal requirements on climate protection measures.

On 18 January 2022, the First Senate of the Federal Constitutional Court dismissed all eleven complaints for lack of adequate prospects of success. In alignment with its argumentation in Neubauer v. Germany, the First Senate recognized that the burden of CO2 emissions reductions must not be unilaterally offloaded onto future generations. However, the First Senate stated the individual legislators of the Bundesländer have not been been given an overall reduction target to comply with, even at the expense of freedom protected by fundamental rights. Thus, according to the First Senate’s decision, a violation of the obligations to protect the complainants from the dangers of climate change cannot be established. As regards to the Bundesländer, the First Senate clarified that they still have a responsibility to protect the climate, particularly by virtue of Article 20a of the German Constitution.

Rights invoked:
The applicants invoked violations of various freedoms guaranteed under the domestic Constitution, especially those in Art. 2(1) of the German Constitution (right to free development of one’s personality), in combination with Article 20a of the Constitution (protection of the natural foundations of life and of animals). They invoked these rights in their ‘intertemporal dimension’, i.e. taking on the framing of the Neubauer case, which considered that failure to act now on climate change means excessively impacting future freedoms.

Date of decision:
18 January 2022

Related proceedings:
In addition to the constitutional proceedings, a subsidiary popular complaint has been brought by the same group of applicants to contend that the Bavarian Climate Protection Act (Bayerisches Klimaschutzgesetz), along with the wider regulatory context, is in violation of constitutional rights.

Suggested citation:
German Bundesverfassungsgericht, Marlene Lemme and Nine Other v. Bavaria, constitutional complaint of 30 June 2021.

For the other related cases see:

Luca Salis et al. v. Sachsen-Anhalt

Emma Johanna Kiehm et al. v. Brandenburg

Alena Hochstadt et al. v. Hessen

Otis Hoffman et al. v. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

Leonie Frank et al. v. Saarland

Tristan Runge et al. v. Sachsen

Jannis Krüssmann et al. Nordrhein-Westfalen (NWR)

Cosima Rade et al. v. Baden-Württemberg

Matteo Feind et al. v. Niedersachsen

Categories
Biodiversity Brazil Deforestation Indigenous peoples rights Indigenous peoples' rights International Criminal Court Right to a healthy environment Right to culture Right to health

The Prosecutor v. Bolsonaro

Summary:
On 12 October 2021, the Austrian NGO AllRise, which advocates for interests linked with the environment, democracy, and the rule of law, submitted a communication to the International Criminal Court in the Hague concerning acting Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Although NGOs cannot initiate proceedings before the ICC, the Prosecutor can do so proprio motu (Art. 15(1) Rome Statute), and the communication’s aim is to convince the Prosectuor to do so regarding President Bolsonaro’s policy on the Amazon rainforest.

AllRise contends that the Bolsonaro government’s socio-economic policy has put the lives of environmental advocates at risk, and has dismantled the protections of the environment that were previously available under domestic law, which as facilitated the activities of criminal networks. By failing to prosecute the perpetrators of environmental crimes and undermining the protection of the climate, human health, and justice, AllRise argues, the Bolsonaro government has committed crimes against humanity, as proscribed by the Rome Statute of the ICC.

The NGO’s communication is supported by the Climate Observatory (Observatório do Clima), a network of 70 Brazilian civil society organizations.

Human rights claims:
AllRise argues that ‘these Environmental Dependents and Defenders have been and continue to be the subject of Crimes Against Humanity through severe deprivations of their fundamental and universal right to a healthy environment (also known as R2E) and other human rights related thereto’ (para. 15). It likewise invoked the rights of indigenous peoples, arguing that ‘[t]he destruction of the rainforest and the rivers of the Amazon has a devastating impact on the traditional, cultural and spiritual way of life of Indigenous peoples and others who depend upon the forest’ (para. 164). The NGO also describes the background of attacks and violence against environmental activists and human rights defenders (paras. 201-208).

More information:
To read the full complaint, click here.

Categories
Blog

Russia vetoes UN Security Council Resolution linking climate change to peace and security

On 13 December, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution that would have framed climate change as a a threat to international peace and security. The draft Resolution, which was spearheaded by Ireland and Niger and was co-sponsored by 113 UN member States, would have called the Security Council to incorporate “information on the security implications of climate change” into its work on peace and security.

The UN Security Council has been discussing the security risks linked to climate change since 2007, and past resolutions have mentioned the destabilizing effects of climate change in specific contexts, for example in Iraq. The draft resolution’s text would have called on the UN Secretary-General to make security risks linked to climate change a “central component” of efforts to prevent conflict. The Resolution was premised on the understanding that climate change can “lead…to social tensions…, exacerbating, prolonging, or contributing to the risk of future conflicts and instability and posing a key risk to global peace, security, and stability”. It recognized the need for “a comprehensive, whole of UN approach to address climate change and its effects”.

A zero draft of the resolution was circulated after a 23 September high-level open debate on climate and security, organised by Ireland. No vote was held on that draft text due to resistance from Russia, China and the United States. On 13 December, India also voted against the Resolution, while Russia used its veto power and China abstained from the vote. According to the representatives of these States, the issue of climate change and its security implications should more appropriately be discussed in the context of other efforts, for example the Framework Convention on Climate Change to avoid ‘politicizing‘ the question.

Categories
Adaptation Australia Human Rights Committee Imminent risk Indigenous peoples' rights Private and family life Right to culture Right to life Sea-level rise

Torres Straits Islanders v. Australia

Summary:
This petition against Australia was brought to the UN Human Rights Committee by a group of eight Torres Straits Islanders in 2019. In their petition, they argued that the Australian government had violated their rights, as inhabitants of low-lying islands, under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) because of its inaction in addressing climate change.

Rights at stake:
The applicants in this case invoked a series of rights in the ICCPR. This includes Article 27 (the right to culture), Article 17 (the right to be free from arbitrary interference with privacy, family and home), and Article 6 (the right to life). They consider that the Australian government must ensure both mitigation and adaptation measures in order to adequately protect their rights.

Outcome:
The case is currently pending.

Categories
Adaptation Australia Domestic court Imminent risk Indigenous peoples' rights Sea-level rise Uncategorized Vulnerability

Australian Torres Straits Islanders case

Summary:
In the Australian Torres Straits Islanders case, modelled on the Dutch Urgenda case, a group of indigenous Torres Strait Islanders living on islands off Australia’s coast initiated domestic class action proceedings before the Federal court of Australia to claim that the Australian government has failed to protect them from climate change, leading to the progressive destruction of their ancestral islands.

Context:
In another, separate climate claim, a group of eight Torres Strait islanders took a Communication to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2019, alleging that Australia had violated the human rights of low-lying islanders because of its failure to take climate action.

Petitioners:
This case was brought by two First Nations leaders on behalf of the remote Torres Strait islands of Boigu and Saibai. They brought the case on their own behalf and “on behalf of all persons who at any time during the period from about 1985 and continuing, are of Torres Strait Islander descent and suffered loss and damage as a result of the conduct of the Respondent”.

Arguments made:
Based on scientific evidence, the plaintiffs argue that climate change is already threatening their native title rights and distinctive customary culture. They allege that, due to the progression of climate change and the increasing storms and rising sea levels that result from this, they face an increasing threat of floods and of rising salt concentrations in their soil. Some islands, they argue, could become uninhabitable if the global temperature rises to levels more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. One of the plaintiffs noted that that his people have lived on the islands in question for over 65,000 years.

The plaintiffs allege that the Australian government owes a duty of care to Torres Strait Islanders. It must, in other words, take reasonable measures to protect them, their environment, their culture and their traditional way of life from the harms caused by climate change. Because current climate action and targets are not consistent with the best available climate science, they argue, this duty of care has been breached. They invoke the Torres Strait Treaty, which requires the Australian government to protect and preserve the marine environment in the region. The plaintiffs seek both mitigation and adaptation measures and rely on the duty of care recognized in the Sharma case.

Full text of the petition:
The full text of the petition is available at climatecasechart.com.

Categories
Blog

The UN Recognizes the Human Right to Healthy Environment

On Friday, 8 October 2021, the UN Human Rights Council issued its Resolution 48/13, which recognizes the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. On the same day, in its Resolution 48/14, the Human Rights Council also established the office of a Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change.

The recognition of the human right to a healthy environment in Resolution 48/13 has been hailed as a major success for efforts to ensure that human rights law can adequately respond to environmental harms, and especially to the harms associated with climate change. The succinct resolution ‘[r]ecognizes the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right that is important for the enjoyment of human rights’ (§ 1), notes its interrelationship with other human rights (§ 2), and encourages States to capacity-build, cooperate, share good practices, adopt policies, and continue to take into account their environmental human rights obligations and commitments (§ 3).

In addition, the Human Rights Council’s Resolution 48/14 has simultaneously created the office of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change for a period of three years. The Special Rapporteur, who has not yet been appointed, will study the adverse effect of climate change on human rights, identify challenges, synthesize knowledge, promote and exchange views and best practices, raise awareness, seek views and contributions from States and other relevant stakeholders, facilitate the exchange of technical assistance, capacity-building and cooperation, coordinate with other actors, conduct country visits, participate in relevant events, integrate a gender-responsive, age-sensitive, disability inclusive and social-inclusion perspective, participate in the creation of standards for corporate actors, coordinate closely with other Special Rapporteurs in related thematic areas, and report to the Human Rights Council annually. The Resolution also requests the Advisory Committee of the Human Rights Council to prepare a report, in close cooperation with the new Special Rapporteur, on the impact of new climate protection technologies on human rights.

On the EJIL:Talk! Blog, Annalisa Savaresi has summarized these developments, discussing the various advantages of the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment. This includes improved access to justice, a strengthened basis for activism and the foundation for legislative protections of environmental interests. Overall, the recognition of this right is also described as drawing increased attention to environmental harms and issues.

Categories
2021 Domestic court Emissions reductions European Convention on Human Rights France Paris Agreement Private and family life Right to life

Notre Affaire à Tous and Others v. France (‘L’affaire du siècle’)

Summary:
The L’affaire du siècle (French for “affair of the century”) is a French climate justice campaign initiated by four organisations (Fondation pour la nature et l’homme, Greenpeace France, Notre affaire à tous and Oxfam France) on 17 December 2018 to bring the French State to justice for its inaction in the fight against global warming. After the French State rejected the campaigners’ demand, a legal action against the State was filed with the Paris Administrative Court on 14 March 2019.

On 3 February 2021, in a decision that the associations described as ‘a historic victory for the climate’, this court confirmed the existence of a causal link between environmental damage and the failure of the State to adequately combat climate change. It ordered the State to submit written observations within a two-month time frame.

On 14 October 2021, in its final decision, the court instructed the French State to take immediate and concrete measures to combat climate change and to repair the damage caused by its inaction by 31 December 2022.

Rights invoked:
Among other things, the applicant organisations relied on Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the French Charter of the Environment, as well as the “right to a preserved climate system”. The plaintiffs argued that this right stems from national and international law such as the Stockholm Declaration, the World Charter for Nature, the Rio Declaration, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement, the Climate action and renewable energy package for 2020.

Findings on the merits:
The court found that the State had not respected its greenhouse gas reductions commitments and had therefore committed a “fault”. It accordingly held that, “[i]n line with the commitments that it had made within the framework of the first carbon budget, which it failed to respect, the State must be regarded as responsible […] for part of the ecological damage observed”.

The Administrative Court of Paris thereby confirmed on 3 February 2021 that there was a causal link between the environmental damage and the inaction of the French government in combating climate change. In other words, it recognized that the government’s inaction had caused ecological damage, and that the State should be held responsible for at least part of this damage. The court ordered the government to show, within two-months, the measures it intended to take against climate change. The court reserved the rest of its judgment until after it had received these submissions.

In its final decision on 14 October 2021, the Administrative Court of Paris instructed the Prime Minister and the relevant ministers to take all possible measures to combat climate change and to repair the ecological damage and prevent it from getting worse. The Court specified the damage in the amount of the uncompensated share of greenhouse gas emissions under the initial carbon budget, i.e. 15 million tons of CO2 equivalents. It ordered that the recuperation of this damage must be effective no later than 31 December 2022. However, the Court did not consider it appropriate to impose a penalty on its order.

The Court noted that it is not its role to assess whether the totality of the measures taken is sufficient or not. Therefore, the specific measures to implement this recuperation may take various forms, and are left to the discretion of the French government. In its findings, the Court referred to the Commune de Grande-Synthe decision of the Conseil d’État (“Council of State”) of 1 July 2021. This decision states that the current measures are not sufficient to achieve the necessary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Date of filing:
14 March 2019

Date of decision:
14 October 2021

Links:
For the full text of the final decision of 14 October 2021 (in French), see here.

For the full text of the first decision of 3 February 2021 (in French), see here.

For an unofficial translation of the first decision of 3 February 2021 (in English), see here.  

For an unofficial translation of the State’s reply (in English), see here.

For the plaintiff’s reply to the State’s arguments (in French), see here.

The applicant organisations are active on Twitter at @laffairedusiecl, and they have a website that can be found at https://laffairedusiecle.net/.

Suggested citation:
Paris Administrative Court, Notre Affaire à Tous and Others v. France (‘L’affaire du siècle’), Decision of 3 February 2021, Nos. 1904967, 1904968, 1904972, and 1904976/4.

Paris Administrative Court, Notre Affaire à Tous and Others v. France (‘L’affaire du siècle’), Decision of 14 October 2021, Nos. 1904967, 1904968, 1904972, and 1904976/4.

Further reading:
Christel Cournil, Antoine Le Dylio, Paul Mougeolle, ‘L’affaire du Siècle : French Climate Litigation between Continuity and Legal Innovations’, 14(1) Carbon & Climate Law Review (2020), 223-233. Available here.

Categories
2021 Domestic court Indigenous peoples' rights Norway Right to culture

Statnett SF et al. v. Sør-Fosen sijte et al.

Summary:
In this judgment of 11 October 2021, the Supreme Court of Norway found that the construction of two wind power plants on the Fosen peninsula interfered with the rights of reindeer herders to enjoy their own culture under Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Supreme Court unanimously found that there had been an interference with this right, and accordingly invalidated the wind power licence and the expropriation decision.

Facts of the case:
In 2010, two wind power plants (the Roan and Storheia plants) received a license from the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate. These plants are located within the Fosen grazing district, where the Sør-Fosen sijte and Nord-Fosen siida keep their reindeer. In 2013, the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy rejected their claim that the construction of the wind power plants interfered with their right to cultural enjoyment. Construction on the plants commenced while the issue was pending before the courts, and the two plants – which are part of the largest onshore wind power project in Europe — were ready to become operational in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Merits:
The main issue at stake before the Supreme Court was whether the development interfered with the reindeer herders’ rights under Article 27 ICCPR. That provision enshrines the right of persons belonging to an ethnic, religious or linguistic minority to enjoy their own culture, in community with the other members of their group. It was undisputed before the Supreme Court that reindeer husbandry is a protected cultural practice. The Supreme Court relied on the Court of Appeal’s finding that the winter pastures near Storheia and Roan had in practice been lost to reindeer husbandry, and that the wind power plants in question are a threat to the reindeer industry’s existence on Fosen peninsula absent remedial measures.    

The Supreme Court, relying on the work of the UN Human Rights Committee, held that the total effect of the development in question determines whether a violation of the ICCPR right has taken place. Although there is no room for a proportionality assessment, a balance must be struck if the rights under Article 27 ICCPR conflict with other fundamental rights. The Supreme Court established that the right to a healthy environment might constitute such a conflicting right.

The Supreme Court found that the herders’ cultural rights would face significant adverse effects and be violated if satisfactory remedial measures were not implemented. The Supreme Court agreed that a “green shift” and increased renewable energy production are important, but found that there were alternatives that were less intrusive for the reindeer herders less, so that there was no collision between environmental interests and the reindeers’ right to cultural enjoyment in this case.   

Remedial awards:
In its ruling, the Court of Appeal had previously stipulated sizeable compensation for the winter feeding of fenced-in reindeer, and on this basis it had found no violation of the right to cultural enjoyment. In the Supreme Court’s view, such a solution was too uncertain to be a determining factor in whether Article 27 ICCPR had been violated. In any event, the courts could not rely on such a measure as a part of the reindeer herders’ duty to adapt.  

Separate opinions:
N/A

Implementation:
N/A

Date of judgment:
11 October 2021

Links:
A summary of the judgment (in English) is available here.

The full text of the judgment (in Norwegian, English translation forthcoming) is available here.

Suggested citation:
Supreme Court of Norway, Statnett SF et al. v. Sør-Fosen sijte, HR-2021-1975-S, Judgment of 11 October 2021.

Categories
Blog

Draft Protocol on the Right to Healthy Environment at the Council of Europe

On 29 September 2021, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) proposed a new additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights which would recognize the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment within the Council of Europe system. The proposal, which is based on a report by PACE member Simon Moutquin (Belgium SOC),  can be found here, and it also proposes the adoption of a parallel additional protocol to the European Social Charter.

The Assembly’s proposal will now be considered by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, which will decide whether to draft a corresponding protocol. Several previous attempts to recognize the right to a healthy environment within the Council of Europe have failed, and a similar recommendation by PACE from 2009 did not lead to the adoption of a corresponding optional protocol by the Committee of Ministers. PACE announced that this new instrument would would give the European Court of Human Rights “a non-disputable base for rulings concerning human rights violations arising from environment-related adverse impacts on human health, dignity and life”.

For more on this, see the press release from the Council of Europe.