This case was brought by a group of applicants, named in the brief as the climate action NGO Klimatická žaloba ČR, a municipality, two peasants, several foresters, and a man from Prague who suffers from environmental anxiety. The case was brought on 21 April 2021, and contested failures to provide adequate and necessary mitigation and adaptation measures to protect against the adverse effects of climate change. It alleged that the Government’s failures to adequately address climate change violated the rights to life, health, a healthy environment, and other rights guaranteed by the Czech constitution, the Czech Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The applicants sought a declaration that the Czech government failed to respect their rights by ensuring sufficient emissions reductions to meet the Paris Agreement’s targets. They also sought an order setting the Czech carbon budget at 800 Mt CO2 from January 2021 until the end of the century.
Judgment of 15 June 2022:
On 15 June 2022, the Municipal Court of Prague issued a judgment in this case. It rejected the action against the Government of the Czech Republic. However, it found that the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Transport had failed to provide specific mitigaton measures leading to a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. These authorities were required to have a complete and precise plan of measures in place to meet this goal, which was not the case at the time of judgment; they were accordingly enjoined to cease their interference with the applicants’ rights by adopting an adequate mitigation plan.
Citing the environmental case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, the court noted that inaction in protecting the environment may violate human rights, as well as the right to a favourable environment under Article 7 of the Czech Constitution and Article 35(1) of the Czech Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. It accordingly recognized the standing of the individual applicants in the case. Because domestic law grants associations the right to bring cases not only concerning their own rights, but also concerning those of their members, and because the court found that climate change affects the entire territory of the Czech Republic, the applicants associations had standing to bring an interference action. Likewise, the applicant municipality had standing, given that climate change can affect the legitimate interests of citizens living in its territory and that its basic duty “is to take care of the overall development of its territory and the needs of its citizens, and to protect the public interest. It is therefore desirable that a municipality should be able to take care of the rights of its citizens to a favourable environment in the same way as an environmental association”.
Reasoning on the merits:
The court noted that the Czech Code of Administrative Justice does not allow an action for interference to protect the rights of third parties (actio popularis / public interest litigation), but found that the applicants’ affectedness in the present case was sufficiently direct, noting that “the link between climate change and human (in)action is so compelling and close that, when considering the directness of interference, the two are an inseparable whole.” It argued in this regard that the interference with the applicants’ right to a favourable environment was “direct, since it is no longer the global effects of climate change that are at issue, but their local adverse manifestations” (para. 198). It noted also that “[d]irectness of the interference is not precluded by the fact that the applicants are, in a strict sense, directly deprived of their rights by the adverse effects of climate change, not by the defendants’ allegedly unlawful failure to act to protect the climate. A contrary interpretation would constitute an excessive legal formalism making climate litigation impossible” (para. 199). Citing the precautionary principle (para. 211) and IPCC reports (para. 216-220), the court went on to find that “living in sustainable climatic conditions also falls within the scope of the basic needs of human life, as they are a prerequisite for the undisturbed exercise of other human rights, such as the right to life, health, property rights, the right to engage in economic activity” (para. 210). It recognized that climate change has adverse impacts on human living conditions, including through heat stress, the spread of infectious diseases, and reduced diversity and access to food (para. 221). Citing the Urgenda case (para. 224), the court went on to find that climate change interfereed directly with the applicants’ right to a healthy environment (para. 225), and that “[r]esidence, age, sex, health, etc. only determine the extent of the interference” (para. 223).
The court found that while the Paris Agreement was part of the domestic legal order, and bound the Czech Republic, its 2 degree target was not legally binding. However, drawing on scholarship, the IPCC, and the Urgenda judgment, the court found that the obligation in Art. 4(2) of the Paris Agreement to implement mitigation measures to achieve the Czech nationally determined contribution (NDC) was binding on the State (para. 248-250). Although the Czech Republic had not in fact submitted its own NDC, the EU had set emissions levels for all Member States, and the resulting reduction emission was individually applicable to the Czech Republic (para. 251). Citing developments taking place as part of the EU’s Green Deal, including the new European Climate Law, and its duty of due diligence to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (para. 262), it found that “the Defendants should have established a plan for achieving the Paris Agreement’s (EU NDC) 2030 target without undue delay and in accordance with the requirements imposed on mitigation measures by Article 4(14) of the Paris Agreement (transparency, specificity, completeness) following the entry into force of the Paris Agreement for the Czech Republic and the update of the first EU NDC” (para. 280). It noted too that “the Defendants have no reasonable reason to wait until 2023 to develop and then implement the measures.”
Failing to fulfil the corresponding emissions reductions obligations, the court held, constituted a violation of the applicants’ rights.
The Municipal Court agreed with the applicants and the scientific studies, including IPCC reports, that they had submitted in evidence “that a global carbon budget of 900 GtCO2 since January 2018 is consistent with the Paris Agreement commitment. Compliance with this budget will likely result in 50% probability of a 1.7°C temperature increase from pre-industrial times; 2°C will not be exceeded with a 67% probability and 1.5°C with a 33% probability” (para. 239). The court extensively engaged with the different bases of argument, finding that one study contained too many variables to be convincing.
In terms of adaptation measures, the court found that the Defendants had not breached their obligation to adopt and implement adaptation measures under Article 5(4) of the European Climate Law. The Defendants had adopted an extensive action plan reflecting adaptation gaps, based on scientific knowledge, and involving a range of public and private actors. The court accordingly did not follow the applicants’ allegations concerning shortcomings in the implementation of measures concerning forestry, drought and water protection, and agriculture (para. 329).
In a paragraph of central importance, and revolving around the “drop in the ocean” argument, the court held that:
“[C]limate change would also occur if the defendants acted to mitigate and adapt to climate change. However, if the defendants had properly fulfilled their obligations, climate change would have been milder and averting dangerous climate change under Article 2(1)(a) of the Paris Agreement would have been more likely. This conclusion follows from the non-negligible impact of human activity on climate change. Defendants’ failure to act is therefore a partial cause of the current adverse impacts of climate change. The Municipal Court notes that the individual responsibility of the States Parties to the Paris Agreement cannot be excluded by reference to the level of emission contributions of other States. Such an approach would make effective legal protection impossible where the State in question is not a significant emitter of greenhouse gases on a global scale and would be inconsistent with the principle of common but differentiated responsibility of the Parties under Article 2(2) of the Paris Agreement” (para. 325).
This quotation, and those throughout this post, come from the unofficial translation of the judgment provided by the applicants.
The court did not examine the complaints concerning the rights to property, to private and family life, to life and health, to carry out economic activity and to self-government. Doing so, it held, would have no impact on the applicants’ legal position, “since it is the specific definition of the violation, and not the number of rights affected, which is decisive for the remedy of a continuing interference under Article 87(2) of the Code of Administrative Justice.”
The Court issued not only a declaratory but also a constitutive ruling, meaning that it instructed the authorities to remedy their inaction and adopt a mitigation plan that is sufficiently specific within the meaning of Article 4(2) and (14) Paris Agreement and aims at meeting the EU NDC target. The choice of specific mitigation measures leading to a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 was left to the defendants’ discretion. The court held that it “could not, in view of the principle of separation of powers, order the defendants to develop specific mitigation measures” (para. 334). It did, however, reimburse the costs of the proceedings.
21 April 2021
The complaint is available here (in Czech).
An unofficial translation of the judgment into English and a press release are available from the applicants.
Municipal Court of Prague, Klimatická žaloba ČR and others v. the Czech Republic and others, Judgment No. 14A 101/2021 of 15 June 2022.
22 March 2023