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. 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 related case of Lemme et al. v. Bavaria, 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 themselvse against future rights impacts caused by the lack of climate measures.

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.

Suggested citation:
German Bundesverfassungsgericht, Luca Salis et al. v. Sachsen-Anhalt, constitutional complaint submitted on 9 September 2021.

Related proceedings:
For more on the two complaints brought in the related Lemme case, see below.

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

Lemme et al. v. Bayern

Summary:
This case is part of a set of proceedings 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.

Regulatory context:
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.

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.

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.

In addition, similar litigation has been brought in other German Bundesländer.

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

Categories
Argentina Brazil Children and young people Committee on the Rights of the Child France Germany Turkey

Sacchi et al. v. Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany & Turkey

Summary:
On 23 September 2019, 16 children, among them teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, filed a petition before the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) alleging that Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey had violated their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) by making insufficient cuts to greenhouse gases and failing to encourage the world’s biggest emitters to curb carbon pollution. Each of the respondent states has ratified the UNCRC, and all of them have signed the Paris Agreement but, according to petitioners, none have made or kept commitments that align with keeping temperature rise.

The sixteen children petitioned the CRC to declare a violation of their rights due to the respondent states’ perpetuation of climate change. They also petitioned the CRC to recommend actions that the respondents must take to address climate change, specifically mitigation and adaptation measures. Their claims are based on the rights enshrined in the UNCRC, and the argument that the respondents have knowingly caused and perpetuated the climate crisis, thereby triggering the applicability of human rights obligations and duties.

In its inadmissibility decision of 22 September 2021, the Committee declared the Communication inadmissible. This decision is indicative of some of the procedural challenges that climate cases will face in the future. Whereas the Committee recognized that the authors of the Communication had victim status, and established that it had jurisdiction over the case, it found the case inadmissible for failure to exhaust domestic remedies.

Adjudicating Body:
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

Date:
22 September 2021

Status of case:
Declared inadmissible

Third party intervention:
On 1 May 2020, David R. Boyd and John H. Knox (the current and former UN Special Rapporteurs on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, respectively), submitted a third-party intervention regarding this Communication to the Committee. The text of the intervention is available here.

Hearing in these cases:
There were oral hearings before the CRC in these cases. The parties appeared before the Committee via videoconference at five separate hearings between May and September 2021.

Admissibility:
Arguments by the respondent States:
Three respondent States (Brazil, France and Germany) responded to the petition, arguing that it was inadmissible on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction; lack of substantiation (manifestly ill-founded); and the failure to exhaust domestic remedies.

Reply by the petitioners:
In their reply of 4 May 2020, the petitioners argued that:

1) the Committee had jurisdiction because they (the petitioners) are “directly and foreseeably injured by greenhouse gas emissions originating in the Respondents’ territory;”
2) the claims are manifestly well-founded because the children are currently suffering direct and personal harms due to climate change, and they will continue to do so in the foreseeable future; and
3) the pursuit of domestic remedies would be futile.

Findings of the CRC:
The CRC adopted a separate set of Views for each State party concerned; these will be discussed together here.

In terms of the authors’ victim status, the Committee held that they had “prima facie established that they have personally experienced a real and significant harm in order to justify their victim status.” In doing so, it held that the authors, as children, are particularly impacted by climate change, and that States have “heightened obligations to protect children from foreseeable harm”. As a result, the CRC was not precluded by Article 5(1) of the Optional Protocol from considering the communication.

In terms of jurisdiction, the CRC held, with reference to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’s Advisory Opinion OC-23/17 on the Environment and Human Rights and its own Joint Statement on Human Rights and Climate Change, that States have effective control over carbon emissions and that they are responsible for transboundary harm caused by these emissions. It found that, even though climate change is “a global collective issue that requires a global response, States parties still carry individual responsibility for their own acts or omissions in relation to climate change and their contribution to it.” In light of existing scientific evidence showing the impact of the cumulative effect of carbon emissions on the enjoyment of human rights, including rights under the Convention, the Committee considered with regard to each individual respondent State that “the potential harm of the State party’s acts or omissions regarding the carbon emissions originating in its territory was reasonably foreseeable to the State party”.

Concerning the exhaustion of domestic remedies, the Committee recalled that this requirement does not apply where these avenues do not offer objective prospects of success. In these cases, however, it examined the remedial possibilities in each State in detial, and ultimately reached a finding of inadmissibility, noting that no domestic proceedings had been initiated in the respective States concerned.

In this regard, various arguments made by the authors were unsuccessful. The argument that plaintiffs from other countries were barred from proceedings was disregarded for lack of specific examples (Communication concerning Argentina, § 10.18). The Committee further referred to the existence of discretionary remedies, which the authors had not used. The authors’ “doubts about the prospects of success of any remedy” was not sufficient for the Committee to consider they had exhausted “all domestic remedies that were reasonably effective and available to them to challenge the alleged violation of their rights under the Convention.” The references to environmental cases in which the State parties took several years to reach a decision was not considered sufficient evidence to show that domestic remedies would be unreasonably prolonged.

Merits:
Not examined

Remedies:
Not applicable

Separate opinions:
Not applicable

Implementation measures taken:
Not applicable

Keywords:
Admissibility, children’s rights, UNCRC, domestic remedies, transboundary harms, victim status.

Links:
For a summary of the five cases from the UN’s treaty body media service, click here.

For background on the case, click here.

The text of the petition is available on Climate Case Chart, click here to access it.

The full text of the Committee’s Views can be found:

  • Regarding Argentina, the Views can be found here.
  • Regarding Brazil, the Views can be found here.
  • Regarding France, the Views can be found here.
  • Regarding Germany, the Views can be found here.
  • Regarding Turkey, the Views can be found here.

Suggested citation for the Communication concerning Argentina:
Committee on the Rights of the Child, Sacchi et al. v. Argentina (dec.), 22 September 2021, CRC/C/88/D/104/2019.

Categories
Children and young people Domestic court Right to a healthy environment Uganda

Mbabazi and Others v. The Attorney General of Uganda and Others

Summary:
This case was brought by a group of four young people, along with an NGO, alleging that the government of Uganda had breached its duty as a public trustee over natural resources because it had failed to uphold the right to a clean and healthy environment. The case was brought against the Attorney General of the Republic of Uganda and the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). The plaintiffs brought their case under Articles 29, 50 and 237 of the Ugandan Constitution, along with sections 2, 3, 71 and 106 of the National Environment Act. They brought the case on their own behalf, as well as on behalf of “all children of Uganda born and unborn”, and in the public interest.

Claims:
The plaintiffs argued that the Government of Uganda holds and maintains natural resources for and on behalf of Ugandan citizens under Article 237 of the domestic Constitution, and that it has a duty and obligation to maintain these resources and to ensure their sustainable use. It also has a duty to ensure the sustainable use of resources for present and future generations, including air, water and land. They describe the atmosphere as an ecological asset of the Ugandan people. They invoked Articles 39 and 237 of the domestic Constitution, which imposes a duty on the government to ensure that the atmosphere is free from pollution, and they also argued that the Government has a duty to ensure the integration of environmental concerns into overall national policy-making. The Government had failed to uphold citizens’ right to a clean and healthy environment, and to curb the present and future effects of climate change.

Date filed:
2012

Case status:
Pending

Further reading:
The amended text of the complaint, as submitted in 2015, is available from climatecasechart.com.

Suggested citation:
High Court of Uganda, Mbabazi and Others v. The Attorney General and National Environmental Management Authority, Civil Suit No. 283 of 2012

Categories
Business responsibility Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Evidence Right to a healthy environment Right to health South Africa

South African ‘Deadly Air Case’

Summary:
This case concerns toxic air pollution in the Mpumalanga Highveld, which is home to a dozen coal-fired power plants, a coal-to-liquids plant and a refinery. The case was brought by two environmental organisations – groundWork and Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action – represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights.

The applicants have petitioned the court to declare the unsafe levels of air pollution to be a violation of section 24a of the South African Constitution, which provides that “everyone has the right to an environment not harmful to their health or wellbeing”. 

The outcome of the case is currently pending before the Pretoria High Court, and Judge Colleen Collins has reserved judgment.

Claims:
The applicants’ complaints concern exposure to toxic chemicals emitted by the coal plants. This includes sulphur dioxide, heavy metals like mercury, and fine particulate matter. According to the applicants, the coal plants are responsible for the majority of these emissions, which are causing chronic respiratory illnesses such as asthma and lung cancer, and which also increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks, birth defects and premature deaths. 

The area in question has been recognized as a hotspot of pollution in excess of permissible levels. It has been claimed that this pollution is responsible for up to 10,000 excess deaths per year. But the Government has pointed to the existence of clean air regulations, and argued that there is no scientific evidence proving the link between the air pollution and the harms allegedly suffered by any particular individual. It has also highlighted the need to realize the right to a healthy environment progressively.

Amicus curia intervention by the UNSR:
David R. Boyd, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, intervened as an amicus curiae in this case. He argued that poor and marginalised people disproportionately carry the burden of toxic air pollution. It has been reported that Boyd’s arguments include consideration for the vulnerability of children to environmental threats.

Deciding body:
Pretoria High Court

Admissibility:
TBD

Merits:
TBD

Remedies and outcomes:
TBD

Further reading:
For more information from the Centre for Environmental Resources, click here.

Suggested citation:
South African ‘Deadly Air’ case, Pretoria High Court, hearings held on 17-19 May 2021.

Categories
Business responsibility Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Extreme poverty Indigenous peoples' rights Right to a healthy environment Right to health Right to housing Right to life Right to subsistence/food Right to water Self-determination The Philippines Vulnerability

Greenpeace Southeast Asia and others v. the Carbon Majors

Summary:
This case was brought before the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights (CHR) by 12 organisations and 20 individuals, as well as over a thousand Filipino citizens who expressed their support for the case through a petition, against the so-called ‘carbon majors’, i.e. high-emitting multinational and state-owned producers of natural gas, crude oil, coal and cement. The applicants based their case on research indicating that these Carbon Majors are responsible for a large percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions. Citing the Philippines’ high degree of vulnerability to the effects of climate change, the applicants alleged violations of the rights to life, health, food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, and self-determination. They also specifically invoked the rights of vulnerable groups, peoples and communities, including women, children, people living with disabilities, those living in extreme poverty, indigenous peoples, and displaced persons. They invoked also the right to development, labor rights, and the right to ‘a balanced and healthful ecology’. This petition was brought after a number particularly destructive typhoons that affected the Philippines, including Typhoon Haiyan.

As a result of the petition, the CHR began a dialogical and consultative process, called the National Inquiry on Climate Change (NICC). This process aims to determine the impact of climate change on the human rights of the Filipino people, as well as determining whether the Carbon Majors are responsible for climate change.

Responsible instance:
The case was brought before the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights, which is an independent National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, established on 5 May 1987 by Executive Order No. 163.

Date filed:
22 September 2015

Procedural steps in the case:
On 10 December 2015, the Commission announced during the Paris Climate Change Conference that it would take cognizance of the case.

On 21 July 2016, the Commission enjoined the respondent Carbon Majors to file their comments or answers to the petition within forty-five days. Out of the 47 respondents summoned, 15 submitted a response. Thirteen amicus curiae briefs were received. The applicants filed a reply, to which seven of the carbon majors filed a rejoinder.

Beginning July and November 2017, the Commission conducted community visits and dialogues to select climate impacted areas.

On 11 December 2017, the parties held a first preliminary conference. The Commission used this opportunity to deny the respondents’ jurisdictional objections to the case. It asserted its authority to investigate the case and hold public hearings in 2018 in Manila, New York, and London.

In 2018, the Commission held six public hearings in the case.

Outcome of the NICC:
TBC

Suggested citation:
Philippines Human Rights Commission, In Re: National Inquiry on the Impact of Climate Change on the Human Rights of the Filipino People and the Responsibility therefor, if any, of the ‘Carbon Majors’, case nr. CHR-NI-2016-0001, petition filed on 22 September 2015.

Further information:
The full text of the petition is available here.

For additional resources provided by the Commission, such as transcripts of hearings and evidence submitted, click here.

Categories
2021 Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Human dignity Right to a healthy environment Right to health United States of America

Held and Others v. Montana

Summary:
In Held and Others, sixteen young plaintiffs — aged between two and eighteen — brought a case against the U.S. state of Montana alleging violations of the state constitution due to climate change. The young plaintiffs in this case, which is to some extent comparable to the Juliana litigation, alleged that they are already experiencing ‘a host of adverse consequences’ from anthropogenic climate change in Montana, including increased temperatures, changing weather patterns, more acute droughts and extreme weather events, increasing wildfires and glacial melt. They argued that this was causing health risks, especially for children, and that the defendants, among them the state of Montana, its Governor, and various state agencies, had “act[ed] affirmatively to exacerbate the climate crisis” despite their awareness of the risk of harm to the applicants. The plaintiffs sought a declaration that their right to a clean and healthy environment includes a right a stable climate, and that existing approaches to greenhouse gas emissions in Montana violate constitutional provisions, including the right to a clean and healthy environment; the right to seek safety, health, and happiness; and the right to individual dignity and to equal protection. They also sought injunctive relief, namely an order to account for the state’s Montana’s greenhouse gas emissions and to develop and implement an emissions reductions plan.

Decision on the admissibility:
On 4 August 2021, a the Montana First Judicial District Court for Lewis and Clark County declared the case admissible in part. The prayer for injunctive relief in terms of emissions accounting, a remedial plan or policy, the appointment of expert to assist the court, and retain jurisdiction until such orders are complied with were rejected. However, the court declared the constitutional rights claims admissible, including the claim about the plaintiffs’ ‘fundamental constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment’, which — as the plaintiffs submit — ‘includes a stable climate system that sustains human lives and liberties’.

Date filed:
13 March 2020

Date of admissibility decision:
4 August 2021

More information:
The original complaint is available from the Western Environmental Law Center.
The admissibility decision is available over on climatecasechart.com.

Suggested citation:
Montana First District Court for Lewis and Clark county, Held and others v. State of Montana and others, order on motion to dismiss, 4 August 2021, Cause No. CDV-2020-307.

Categories
Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Pakistan Right to a healthy environment

Ali v. Pakistan

Summary:
This 2016 petition was brought against Pakistan in the name of a seven-year-old girl from Karachi, and challenges actions and inactions on the part of the federal and provincial government relating to climate change. The case is still pending.

Facts and claims made:
The petition, which is available on Climate Case Chart, was filed directly with the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Islamabad, and it alleges violations of constitutional rights, of the public trust doctrine, and of environmental rights. It challenges the environmental harms that are expected to result from the policy of burning coal to obtain electricity. The application challenges a plan to develop coal fields, which would massively increase Pakistani coal production and would displace local residents and degrade the local environment. The plan is linked to investments stemming from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which supports coal field development and new coal-fired power plants in Pakistan.

Suggested case citation:
The Supreme Court of Pakistan, Ali v. Pakistan, petition filed on 1 April 2016

Categories
Children and young people Emissions reductions European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights Norway

‘The People v. Arctic Oil’ (X. v. Norway)

Summary:
The fourth climate change case at the European Court of Human Rights has been announced, and it has been brought by six young Norwegian climate activists aged between 20 and 27, along with two organisations who allege that their members’ lives, health and well-being are being directly affected by the escalating climate crisis. The six individual applicants also allege that, as young people, they are being disproportionately affected by the climate crisis.

The application concerns the Norwegian State’s decision to license continuing exploration for oil and gas in new areas of the Arctic (Barents Sea), and its intention to bring new fossil fuels to market after 2035. The applicants argue that the best available science shows that the emissions from known reserves of fossil fuels will already exceed the carbon budget that remains given the 1.5°C temperature target set in the Paris Agreement.

Citing the seriousness and urgency of the climate crisis, the applicants allege that the respondent State has failed to take the precautionary measures of prevention and protection required under Articles 2 and 8 ECHR (the right to life and the right to respect for private and family life, respectively). They furthermore allege a breach of the prohibition of discrimination in Article 14 ECHR. during the domestic court proceedings, as well as a violation of the right of access to an effective domestic remedy under Article 13 ECHR.

The applicants have sought the application of the Court’s priority policy under Rule 41 of the Rules of Court. In the two already-communicated climate cases, Duarte Agostinho v. 33 Member States and Klimaseniorinnen v. Switzerland, the Court has granted the applicants’ request for priority. A third case has not yet been communicated, making this the fourth climate case pending before the ECtHR.

Domestic proceedings and the reasoning of the Norwegian Supreme Court:
This case is a follow-up from domestic proceedings that were concluded by a judgment in favour of the State that was issued by the Norwegian Supreme Court on 22 December 2020.

In 2016, the two applicant organisations brought a case against the State’s decision to grant 10 licences in the Barents Sea. On 22 December 2020, the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled that this decision did not violate the right to a healthy environment under Article 112 of the Norwegian Constitution. It also found no violation of the ECHR. While it did find that climate impacts should have been assessed, it held that this could be remedied at the development stage (after the licences in question had been issued).

The Norwegian Supreme Court considered that there had been no violation of the ECHR in this case because that Convention only applies to “direct and immediate” environmental harms. Although the Supreme Court considered Articles 2 and 8 ECHR and referred to the pending Duarte Agostinho case in its oral ruling, it considered that the case-law as it stood at the time of decision had not been contravened.

Regarding Article 2 ECHR, the Supreme Court held that this only applies to real and immediate risks of loss of life. The question before the Supreme Court, it argued, was the issue of a sufficient link between the domestic administrative decisions and the risk of a loss of life. It considered that it was not clear whether the decisions would in fact lead to emissions, and the threat concerned was in the future.

Regarding Article 8 ECHR, the Court held that this did not cover every harm to the environment, that an impact had to be “direct and immediate” also here, and that efforts by the Committee of Ministers to add a separate right to a healthy environment to the ECHR had failed.

The Supreme Court also considered that the Dutch Urgenda judgment was not comparable to the case at hand, because that case concerned already-established climate targets, and not the possible invalidity of an administrative decision.

Submissions before the Court in greater detail:
The applicants argue that there is a real and serious risk to their lives and well-being, and to their ability to enjoy their private life, family life and home. They submit that the Norwegian State has failed to adopt the necessary and appropriate measures to address this risk, and that it has failed to describe and assess the total climate effects, including exported emissions, of continued and expanded extraction of oil and gas from the Arctic, thereby also violating the applicants’ rights.

The six individual applicants submit that they have experienced climate anxiety, emotional distress and great worry about the
current and imminent risks of serious climate harms, and the impact on their lives, life choices, and the lives of future generations. They refer to mental health literature, which increasingly draws attention to such concerns, described in the application as “pre-traumatic stress.”

The applicants note that, under current climate policies, the average temperature in Norway is expected to rise by more than 5.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. There has already been an increase in extreme rainfall events, flooding and landslides. Future impacts will include increased risk of drought and forest fire-inducing thunderstorms, changes to flood systems, sea level rise and ocean acidification.

The applicants note that there is a significant difference between planned fossil fuel extraction and Norwegian climate goals. The applicants submit that State representatives stated before the Norwegian Supreme Court that Norway will continue to produce and export petroleum as long as there are buyers. They note that Norway is the 7th largest exporter of emissions in the world, and the 3rd largest per capita, behind Qatar and Kuwait. There is no system in place to declare, assess, calculate, or reduce exported emissions from fossil fuels extraction projects, nor the exported emissions from oil and gas extraction overall.

Claims made:
On victim status, the applicants allege that the licencing of fossil fuels extraction is too complex for individuals and young people to challenge alone. The organisations in question are not only better suited to challenge such decisions, but they also claim to represent future generations.

The applicants allege Articles 2 and 8 have been violated because of the presence of a real, immediate and serious risk to these rights, of which the State had actual or putative knowledge and regarding which it failed to adopt reasonable and appropriate preventative measures. They invoke the principle of prevention, and argue that the State must adopt a legislative and administrative framework designed to provide effective deterrence against threats to the right to life. They argue that an unequal burden has been placed on younger generations, and those unborn. The applicants argue that the threats against their rights are ongoing since temperature increase cannot be reversed and the authorities must act immediately to prevent the harms in question.

Under Article 13, the applicants argue that the Norwegian courts did not assess the merits of the Convention claims in full and
based on ECtHR case law.

Under Article 14, they argue there are disproportionately prejudicial effects on a particular group, citing the factors of young age and the fact that two of the individual applicants are members of the indigenous Sami minority, whose traditions, land and resources are negatively impacted. Due to their age, the young applicants, it is submitted, had no opportunity to participate in the relevant decision-making while at the same time having to shoulder a heavier
burden concerning the long-term consequences of the acts and omissions in question.

Date filed:
15 June 2021

Date communicated: 6 January 2022 (press release).

Suggested case citation:
ECtHR, The People v. Arctic Oil, application filed on 15 June 2021, application available at www.greenpeace.org/static/planet4-norway-stateless/2021/06/0392a3c0-people-vs.-arctic-oil-–-application-to-the-ecthr-–-for-distribution_skjult-innhold.pdf.

Link to the text of the application: click here

Categories
Australia Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Imminent risk

Sharma and Others v. Minister for the Environment

Summary:

In Sharma and Others v. Minister for the Environment, issued on 27 May 2021 by the Federal Court of Australia, a group of children and their litigation representative, Sister Marie Brigid Arthur, argued that the Australian Minister for the Environment owes them and other Australian children a duty of care in approving coal mining projects because of the risk of climate change related harms, and sought an injunction against the project. Given the evidence of climate harms, the judge concluded that the Minister does have a duty of care towards children, but rejected the application for an injunction.

Date:

27 May 2021

Merits:

The case concerned a decision by the Minister to approve the extraction of coal from a coal mine. The judge considered the available evidence about the degree of risk and the magnitude of the risk of harm alleged by the applicants, as well as the foreseeability and likelihood of that harm arising and being caused or contributed to by coal-related CO2 emissions. The judge concluded that the Minister does have a duty of care towards children, but rejected the application for an injunction.

The judgment recognizes that “the risk of harm to the Children from climatic hazards brought about by increased global average surface temperatures, is on a continuum in which both the degree of risk and the magnitude of the potential harm will increase exponentially if the Earth moves beyond a global average surface temperature of 2°C, towards 3°C and then to 4°C above the pre-industrial level.”

At issue was the question of whether the emissions from the mine would be within the remaining carbon budget to be respected in order to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius. On this, and putting the onus of compliance with this budget on the respondent Minister, the Judge held that he did not have sufficient evidence to concluded that this would not be the case. He noted that:

“The Minister called no evidence. The Minister essentially contended that the Court should infer that the 100 Mt of CO2 would likely be emitted in accordance with the Paris Agreement. There is no sufficient basis for that inference. The Minister relied upon little else than speculation, in circumstances where the evidence showed that at least one of the potential consumers of the coal is not a signatory to the Paris Agreement.”

Remedies:

The Judge rejected the applicant’s request for an injunction, considering that the duty of care had not yet been breached, and that it was appropriate to await the outcome of the Minister’s decision-making process.

In a follow-up judgment, issued on 8 July 2021, the Judge ordered the Minister to pay the claimants’ costs, and held that the Minister has a duty to take reasonable care, in the exercise of her powers, to avoid causing personal injury or death to Australian children arising from carbon dioxide emissions.

Separate opinions:

None

Measures taken as a result of the judgment:

Pending

Status of case:

Decided

Suggested case citation:

Federal Court of Australia, Sharma by her litigation representative Sister Marie Brigid Arthur v. Minister for the Environment [2021] FCA 560, 27 May 2021, Bromberg J.

Links:

For the full judgment, see here.

For the follow-up judgment of 8 July 2021, see here.