Categories
2020 Canada Domestic court Emissions reductions Indigenous peoples rights Indigenous peoples' rights Non-discrimination Right to life Separation of powers

Lho’imggin et al. v. Canada

Summary:
This case was brought by two houses of the Wet’suwet’en indigenous group against Canada on 10 February 2020. The plaintiffs argue that the Canadian government has violated their constitutional and human rights by failing to meet its international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They argue that the effects of warming are already being felt on their territories, including in the form of negative health effects. They also argue that the historical treatment and ongoing discrimination against indigenous peoples in Canada exacerbate the trauma of climate change. They invoke, among other things, their rights to life, liberty and security of person, and the right to equality.

The Federal Court granted a motion to strike out the claim on 16 November 2020, finding that the case was not justiciable, lacked a reasonable cause of action, and did not seek legally available remedies. The plaintiffs appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal on 10 December 2020; the appeal was still pending in August 2022.

Relief sought:
The applicants seek several different forms of relief. These include declaratory relief concerning Canada’s obligations to reduce its emissions and respect the plaintiffs’ rights, including the rights of future member of the Wet’suwet’en indigenous group. The plaintiffs also seek an order requiring the government to amend its environmental assessment statutes that apply to extant high GHG emitting projects, and an order requiring a complete, independent and timely annual account of Canada’s cumulative greenhouse gas emissions in a format that allows a comparison to be made with Canada’s fair carbon budget.

Findings of the Federal Court:
Among other things, the Federal Court found that “this matter is not justiciable as it is the realm of the other two branches of government. This broad topic is beyond the reach of judicial interference. [It did] not find that there is a sufficient legal component to anchor the analysis as this action is a political one that may touch on moral/strategic/ideological/historical or policy-based issues and determinations within the realm of the remaining branches of government.” It also found, concerning this case, that “not only is there not sufficient legality, but the remedies sought are not appropriate remedies, but rather solutions that are appropriate to be executed by the other branches of government.”

Further reading:
The full text of the judgment of the Federal Court is available via climatecasechart.

Suggested citation:
Federal Court of Ottowa, Lho’imggin et al. v. Her Majesty the Queen, Order of 16 November 2020, 2020 FC 1059.

Categories
2021 Children and young people Domestic court Right to a healthy environment Right to life Right to property Separation of powers United States of America

Reynolds and Others v. Florida

Summary:
In this case, eight young people asserted that the “deliberate indifference” of the US state of Florida, its Governor Ron DeSantis, and other state agencies had violated their “fundamental rights of life, liberty and property, and the pursuit of happiness, which includes a stable climate system”. On 9 June 2020, the Circuit Court for Leon County dismissed their case, finding that it could not grant the relief requested in light of the separation of powers clause contained in the state’s constitution. The claims in question were considered nonjusticiable because they “are inherently political questions that must be resolved by the political branches of government.”. On appeal, on 18 May 2021, the First District Court of Appeal rejected the applicants’ appeal, affirming the lower court’s finding that the lawsuit raised nonjusticiable political questions.

Further information:
Both the Circuit Court’s judgment and the Court of Appeals’ affirmation of the first-instance judgment can be found at www.climatecasechart.com.

Categories
2021 Canada Children and young people Class action Domestic court Non-discrimination Right to a healthy environment Right to life

ENVironnement JEUnesse v. Canada

Summary:
In 2018, the environmental NGO ENvironnement JEUnesse applied for leave to bring a class action case against the Canadian government on behalf of citizens of Québec aged 35 and under. The NGO sought a declaration from that the Canadian government had violated its obligation to protect these citizens’ fundamental rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Québec Charter of Rights and Freedoms by setting insufficent greenhouse gas reduction targets and by failing to create an adequate plan to reach these targets. Specifically, they invoked their rights to life, to a healthy environment, and to equality. On 11 July 2019, the Superior Court of Quebec dismissed the motion to authorize the institution of a class action, finding that the proposed class, with its 35-year age limit, had been created arbitrarily. An appeal by ENVironnement JEUnesse was denied on 13 December 2021.

Remedies sought:
As well as a declaratory judgment, the NGO sought punitive damages and an order to cease interference with the plaintiffs’ rights.

Judgment:
In their judgment of 13 December 2021, the three judges of the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and denied the certification of the proposed class. They referred to the role of the legislature in making the complex social and economic choices required here. They also considered that the remedies sought by the applicants were not specific enough to be implemented by a court. Lastly, the judges upeld the previous instance’s finding concerning the arbitary constitution of the class, with its 35-year age limit.

Further procedural steps:
The applicants announced that they would launch an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Further reading:
The judgment of the Court of Appeal (in French) can be found below.

The declaration of appeal can be found here.

Categories
Climate activists and human rights defenders European Court of Human Rights Right to assembly and association Right to freedom of expression Switzerland

Lausanne Action Climate v. Switzerland

Summary:

On 5 November 2011, four climate activists submitted an application to the European Court of Human Rights challenging the Swiss Federal Supreme Court’s dismissal of their appeals of criminal convictions concerning the occupation of the premises of the Lausanne branch of Credit Suisse bank in 2018. The applicants invoked the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in Articles 10 and 11 ECHR.

On November 22, 2018, twelve activists occupied the bank’s lobby for one hour. Disguised as Roger Federer, the bank’s ambassador, they engaged in a wild game of tennis to denounce the banking giant’s investments in fossil fuels. The applicants were charged with trespassing and acquitted at first instance, but later found guilty on appeal by the Public Prosecutor of the canton of Vaud. The applicants invoked a provision in the Swiss Penal Code with permits illegal actions under certain conditions, i.e. under conditions of lawful necessity given imminent danger. The Swiss Federal Supreme Court did not agree with this argumentation, noting that the activists also had legal methods at their disposal in order to draw attention to the climate crisis.

Context:

Although it has not yet specifically considered the right to protest or to civil disobedience in the context of climate change, the European Court of Human Rights has extensive case-law on the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. For example, in the case of Bumbeș v. Romania, it found a violation of these rights when an activist was fined for handcuffing himself to a government car park barrier in protest against a mining project. Here, the Court noted that, while States have a margin of appreciation in this context, the imposition of sanctions in response to political expression can have a chilling effect on public speech.

More information:

The application form in this case has not been made publicly available. More information will be added here as it becomes available.

For media reports on this case, click here and here (in French).

Categories
Deforestation Emissions reductions European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights Farming Imminent risk Paris Agreement Private and family life Prohibition of torture Right to life The United Kingdom

Humane Being v. the United Kingdom

Summary:
On 26 July 2022, the NGO Humane Being submitted an application to the European Court of Human Rights arguing that the United Kingdom’s government hat violated the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to protect against the life-threatening risks posted by factory farms. The application invokes Articles 2, 3 and 8 ECHR. Factory farming, the applicants argue, is responsible for the risk of millions of human deaths due to the climate crisis, future pandemics and antibiotic resistance. The case also challenges the effects of agricultural methane emissions and deforestation, and argues that factory farming at current levels is not compatible with the Government’s emissions reduction commitments.

The full application form in this case has not been made publicly available at the time of writing (last update: August 2022). More information will be provided here as it becomes available.

More information:

For the NGO’s press release on the application, click here.

Categories
Access to a remedy Emissions reductions European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights Imminent risk Non-discrimination Private and family life Right to life Standing/admissibility The United Kingdom Victim status

Plan B. Earth and Others v. the United Kingdom

Summary:

On 11 July 2022, an application against the United Kingdom was filed before the European Court of Human Rights by the NGO Plan B. Earth and four individual applicants. The applicants argued that the United Kingdom’s government violated their rights under Articles 2, 8 and 14 of the ECHR by failing to take practical and effective measures to tackle the threat of anthropogenic climate change. They also submitted that they had suffered violations of their procedural rights under Articles 6 and 13 ECHR because they had been denied a full hearing of their case.

Citing the UK Government’s acknowledgment of the fact that climate change is a serious threat to humanity, the applicant NGO submitted that its membership included those “who are exposed to disproportionate and discriminatory impacts and risks, whether by virtue of age, gender, mental health or membership of racially marginalised communities, or because their family life is inextricably linked to communities on the frontline of the crisis.” The applicants also cited the State’s positive obligation to safeguard the right to life, and argued that the Paris Agreement, and its temperature goal of 1,5 degrees Celsius, are relevant in determining the scope of these positive obligations. They argued that practical and effective measures are required to ensure climate mitigation, adaptation, finance flows and loss and damage, and that the respondent State has failed in all four regards.

Victim status:

As concerns the applicants’ victim status, they argued that they were “victims” of the alleged Convention violations. They referred to domestic rules that increase the cost risk by £5,000 for each additional claimant in environmental cases; this rule serves to deter class actions, and therefore prevents applicants from sharing the cost and other risks involved in litigation. They noted that the first applicants’ members include individuals exposed to disproportionate and discriminatory impacts and risks as concerns their age, gender, membership of racially marginalised communities, family life inextricably linked with communities in the Global South, and mental health, and those who are at the intersection of such increased risks. They also noted that, given the high risk of overwhelming and irreversible interference with the applicants’ rights, denying them victim status would render their Convention rights theoretical and illusory.

More information:

For the full text of the application form, click here.

For a press release from Plan B Earth on the filing, click here.

For the full claim before the High Court of Justice, click here.

For the Court of Appeals’ judgment, click here.


Categories
Access to a remedy Austria Children and young people Emissions reductions European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights France Italy Non-discrimination Norway Paris Agreement Portugal Private and family life Right to life Switzerland Turkey

De Conto and Uricchio v. Italy and 32 other States

Summary:
Climatecasechart.com has reported that two further cases in the style of the Duarte Agostinho application have been brought before the European Court of Human Rights, this time by two young people from Italy. The cases were brought against 33 Council of Europe Member States, and refer to storms, forest fires and heat waves experienced by the applicants, as well as associated physical and psychological distress. The applicants, two women aged 18 and 20 at the time of filing, invoked Articles 2, 8, 13 and 14. They made arguments about the positive obligations to protect against environmental harm under Articles 2 and 8 ECHR, discrimination against younger generations, and a lack of access to effective domestic remedies given the excessive burden of being required to bring domestic proceedings in 33 States.

The application forms in these cases have not been made publicly available, and the cases had not yet been communicated by the Court at the time of writing (last update: August 2022). Further details on these cases are accordingly not yet available. More information will be published as it becomes available.

More information (via climatecasechart.com):

On the De Conto case.

On the Uricchio case.

Suggested citation:

ECtHR, De Conto v. Italy and 32 other States, application no. 14620/21, submitted on 3 March 2021.

ECtHR, Uricchio v. Italy and 32 other States, application no. 14615/21, submitted on 3 March 2021.

Categories
Blog

UNGA recognizes the right to a healthy environment

On 28 July 2022, the UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution (A/RES/76/300, not yet published) recognizing the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The Resolution recognizes the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and its relationship with other human rights and existing norms of international law. It passed without opposition, with 161 States voting in favor and 8 abstentions.

Image courtesy of @UN_News_Centre

The draft of this Resolution was spearheaded by five States (Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland), and it was ultimately co-sponsored by over 100 countries as well as enjoying support from numerous civil society organizations and indigenous peoples’ groups. The opposition was led by Russia, and also included Belarus, Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, and the Syrian Arab Republic.

This development follows a similar recognition by the UN Human Rights Council in October 2021 (A/HRC/RES/48/13). In its Resolution recognizing this right, the Human Rights Council called on the UNGA to take up the issue. The UNGA’s Resolution responds to this call by taking on a triple planetary crisis: climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss. It recognizes the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right, and calls for greater global efforts to protect that right. It calls for full implementation of multilateral environmental treaties, and urges international organizations, corporate actors and other stakeholders to adopt policies, enhance international cooperation, strengthen capacity-building and share good practices to ensure a clean, healthy and sustainable environment for all.

This Resolution is not legally binding. As noted by John Knox, the former UNSR for human rights and the environment, “by itself, it will change no policies, enact no new laws, save no forests, stop no pollution. But it can be a powerful catalyst.” This development follows a lengthy struggle to achieve international recognition of this right, which is missing from the main international human rights treaties. Treaty bodies have instead resorted to the “greening” of existing rights to recognize the nexus between environmental protection and the enjoyment of human rights. The recognition of this right by the UNGA not only serves to underscore this nexus, but reflects domestic legal developments in a large number of jurisdictions, especially the constitutional recognition of this right in many countries. It also reflects the recognition of this right in regional instruments such as the African (Banjul) Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the San Salvador Protocol, the Aarhus Convention, and the Arab Charter on Human Rights.

More information:

For a statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, David R. Boyd, click here.

For more on delegates’ comments, see here.

A livestream of the UNGA’s meeting is available here.

Categories
Adaptation Business responsibility Domestic court Emissions reductions Sea-level rise Switzerland

Edy Mulyono and three others v. Holcim AG

Summary:
On 11 July 2022, a case was filed with the conciliation authority in the Swiss canton of Zug concerning the greenhouse gas emissions of the corporate cement giant Holcim AG. The case was brought by four Indonesian nationals, who live on the island of Pari and earn their livelihoods through fishing and tourism. Inspired by the RWE case, they argue that rising sea levels and floods, which are all caused or aggravated by climate change, are threatening their livelihoods. The cement industry is a major emitter of greenhouse gases, currently emitting approximately 8% of yearly global CO2 emissions. and Holcim is the market leader in this sector. On this basis, the plaintiffs seek compensation from Holcim for the damage to their property and for future damages. They also seek adaptation measures to protect themselves against future impacts, and argue that Holcim should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43% (compared to 2019 levels) by 2030, and 69% by 2040. This demands more rapid change than what is foreseen by the company’s own commitment to achieving climate neutrality by 2050.

Background of the claim:
The claim concerns the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the cement industry, which are largely made up of direct emissions. In a press conference, representatives for NGOs supporting the plaintiffs noted that 3/4 of Holcim’s emissions are direct emissions, as opposed to the largely indirect emissions created by the fossil fuel industry. The plaintiffs’ claim is based on references to climate attribution science, including reports by the IPCC, and the findings by the US Climate Accountability Institute that Holcim is responsible for .42% of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1751.

With the support of Swiss Church Aid HEKS/EPER, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the Indonesian environmental organization WALHI, the plaintiffs are invoking Swiss civil law, more specifically a violation of their personality rights and, tort law to argue that their human rights have been violated through the effects of the company’s emissions and that even more severe violations are forthcoming if Holcim does not reduce its emissions. They argue that the company should assume historical responsibility for its past emissions, but also future responsibility in the sense of rapidly reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

Expected further developments:
As required under procedural law, the case has been brought as a request for arbitration. Arbitration proceedings are expected to commence in the fall of 2022. If the efforts at arbitration do not succeed in reaching a mutually agreeable solution, the case may proceed as a civil claim.

Further information:
For a press release on the case, see here.

For more information, see the dossier compiled by the supporting NGOs here.

Categories
2021 Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Fossil fuel extraction Imminent risk Indigenous peoples' rights Non-discrimination Right to life Right to property Sea-level rise United States of America

Aji P. and Others v. the State of Washington

Summary:
This case was brought by 13 young people aged between 8 and 18 who sued the US State of Washington, its Governor, and various other state agencies, arguing that the state had “injured and continue[d] to injure them by creating, operating, and maintaining a fossil fuel-based energy and transportation system that [the State] knew would result in greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions, dangerous climate change, and resulting widespread harm.” In doing so, they invoked their “fundamental and inalienable constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, equal protection, and a healthful and pleasant environment, which includes a stable climate system that sustains human life and liberty.” They also invoked the impacts on indigenous peoples’ rights. The plaintiffs requested the judiciary to “[o]rder [the state] to develop and submit to the Court . . . an enforceable state climate recovery plan”.

A number of amici filed briefs in the case. For example, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Quinault Indian Nation, and Suquamish Tribe argued that local tribes were already seeing impacts on their traditional lands and abutting marine waters. The Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW-US) noted the well-documented impacts of climate change on human and constitutional rights. The League of Women Voters of Washington argued that access to judicial action was particularly important for minors who did not enjoy access to the right to vote. And a group of environmental NGOs submitted that “the right to a healthful and pleasant environment underlies our continued ability to claim our explicitly-guaranteed rights to life and liberty.”

On 8 February 2021, the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington held that it “firmly believe[d] that the right to a stable environment should be
fundamental.” It also recognized “the extreme harm that greenhouse gas emissions inflict on the environment and its future stability.” However, it held that “it would be a violation of the separation of powers doctrine for the court to resolve the Youths’ claims.” It accordingly dismissed the claim.

On 6 October 2021, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington denied the petition for review in this case. González, C.J. (dissenting) noted that the plaintiffs “asked this court to recognize a fundamental right to a healthful and pleasant environment that may be inconsistent with our State’s maintenance of a fossil-fuel-based energy and transportation system that it knows will result in greenhouse gas emissions. These greenhouse gases hasten a rise in the earth’s temperature. This temperature change
foreshadows the potential collapse of our environment. In its place is an unstable climate system, conceivably unable to sustain human life and continued enjoyment of ordered liberty under law. Today, we have an opportunity to consider whether these are the sorts of harms that are remediable under Washington’s law and constitution. We should have granted review to decide that question”.