Summary: This amparo case was filed before the Superior Court of Justice of Lima, Peru, on 16 December 2019. Brought by a group of young Peruvians, it alleges that the government has not taken adequate measures halt deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, a major carbon sink, and to take adequate mitigation and adaptation measures in the face of climate change. They submit that this particularly harms the rights of young people, whose futures are in jeopardy because of climate change.
Before the court, they invoke the constitutional and human right to a healthy environment, drawing in particular on the Peruvian Constitution, the ICESCR, and the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights (also known as the “Protocol of San Salvador”). They also invoke their right to human dignity (Art. 1 of the Peruvian Constitution) and their right to life (Art. 2.1 of the Peruvian Constitution), along with — among others — the right to health and to water. They also invoke the preventive and precautionary principles and draw on constitutional principles concerning the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of natural resources, the social function of law, the best interests of the child, solidarity and intergenerational equity.
The claimants submit that public policies on environmental protection are insufficient “to mitigate a problem that, according to scientific evidence, is worsening and threatens the very survival of the human species on the planet. This scenario is even more acute for the claimants – minors, born between 2005 and 2011 – whose future is severely compromised as a result of the current climate and ecological crisis. The conditions for their well-being and that of their descendants for decades to come depend, to a large extent, on the actions taken today. Tomorrow will be too late. In Peru – a megadiverse country that is vulnerable to climate change – the problem is particularly pressing. The plaintiffs, therefore, have suffered a violation of their fundamental right to enjoy a healthy environment, as well as threats to their fundamental rights to life, to a “life project” (“proyeto de vida”), to water and to health” (translation from the original Spanish by climaterightsdatabase.com)
On 13 March 2020, nineteen teenagers from across South Korea initiated proceedings against their government (the National Assembly of Korea and the President of Korea), arguing that insufficient emissions reductions efforts were violating their constitutional rights. Their constitutional complaint is currently pending before the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Korea.
They argued that, by not taking action to prevent the threats posed by climate change, the government had violated the right of younger generations to life and the pursuit of happiness (Article 10 of the Constitution), which they argue also enshrines the right to resist against human extinction, along with the right to live in a healthy and pleasant environment (Article 35(1) of the Constitution). They also contested inter-generational inequalities under the constitutional prohibition of discrimination (Article 11 of the Constitution) and invoked the duty of the State to prevent environmental disasters (Article 34(e) of the Constitution). In doing so, the applicants invoked the fatal risk posed by climate change and the irrevocable damage to be suffered by younger generations. As a major emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, they argued, Korea has an obligation to protect its citizens from the effects of climate change by taking stronger emissions reductions action.
No action has been taken in this case to date. However, on 30 December 2022, the Korean National Human Rights Commission issued an official statement to the President of Korea regarding climate change and human rights. Citing IPCC reports, UN findings, other instances of climate litigation (such as Urgenda and Neubauer) and the existence of different vulnerabilities, it found that “[a]s the climate crisis has far-reaching impacts on multiple human rights, including the rights to life, food, health and housing, the government should regard protecting and promoting the rights of everyone in the midst of climate crisis as its fundamental obligation and reform related laws and systems to address the climate crisis from a human rights perspective.”
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.
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.
Status of case:
The ECtHR declared the application inadmissible, holding that the applicants were not sufficiently affected by the alleged breach of the Convention or its Protocols to claim to be victims of a violation within the meaning of Art. 34 of the Convention. This decision was taken by a Committee judicial formation, as the result of a written procedure without a public decision.
According to Plan B Earth’s press release following the decision, the panel was composed of three judges, among which the UK Judge Tim Eike.
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.
Status of case: The ECtHR declared the application inadmissible in a single judge judicial formation in a non-public written procedure. The (anonymous) judge decided that the applicant was not sufficiently affected by the alleged breach of the Convention or its Protocols to claim to be a victim of a violation within the meaning of Article 34 ECHR. Single judge decisions are not published to the Court’s HUDOC database.
Publication of decision: Pending
Date of decision: 1 December 2022 (according to the ECtHR’s press release).
More information: For the NGO’s press release on the application, click here.
Suggested citation: European Court of Human Rights, Humane Being v. the United Kingdom, no. 36959/22, Decision (single judge) of 1 December 2022.
Summary: This petition against Australia was brought to the UN Human Rights Committee by a group of eight indigenous Torres Straits Islanders in 2019, in their own names and on behalf of their children. 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 (failure to mitigate emissions and to take adaptation measures).
Rights at stake: The applicants in this case invoked a series of rights in the ICCPR, on behalf of themselves and their children, contesting the respondent State’s failure to adopt mitigation measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cease the promotion of fossil fuels. To support this, they drew on 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) ICCPR. They argued that the indigenous peoples of the Torres Strait Islands, especially those who reside on low-lying islands, are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. They considered that the Australian government must ensure both mitigation and adaptation measures in order to adequately protect their rights. Previously, the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA), a government body, had stated that “the effects of climate change threaten the islands themselves as well as marine and coastal ecosystems and resources, and therefore the life, livelihoods and unique culture of Torres Strait Islanders.”
On 21 July 2022, the Human Rights Committee adopted its Views in this case.
Observations of the State:
The Australian Government argued that the case was inadmissible, contesting the relevance of climate-related international agreements and its own ability to be held (legally or practically) responsible for climate-related harms. It also submitted that it was not possible to attribute climate change to the State party under international human rights law.
The HRC’s considerations on the admissibility:
On the issue of the exhaustion of domestic remedies, the Government’s position was that it did not owe a duty of care for failing to regulate environmental harm, and that it was not required to provide a remedy where (including in the present case) it understood there to be no breach of ICCPR rights. This question was accordingly reserved to the examination of the merits.
Concerning mitigation measures, the HRC noted that Australia is and has been a major greenhouse gas emitter, and ranks high on economic and development indices. As a result, it found that the alleged (in)actions fell under its jurisdiction under articles 1 or 2 of the Optional Protocol.
Concerning the imminence of the risk concerned, and accordingly the issue of victim status / standing, the Committee found that the authors of this Communication, “as members of peoples who are the longstanding inhabitants of traditional lands consisting of small, low-lying islands that presumably offer scant opportunities for safe internal relocation – are highly exposed to adverse climate change impacts”. Given the uncontested dependence of their lives and cultures on natural resources and phenomena, and their inability to finance adaptation measures on their own, the authors were considered to be “extremely vulnerable to intensely experiencing severely disruptive climate change impacts”. Given the authors’ allegations of serious ongoing adverse impacts, the HRC declared their claims under articles 6, 17, 24 (1) and 27 of the ICCPR admissible.
The Committee recalled that the right to life cannot be interpreted restrictively, and that it requires States to adopt protective measures (i.e. that it entails positive obligations). It recalled its own General Comment No. 36, issued in 2018, in establishing that the right to life also extends to reasonably foreseeable threats to life, including adverse climate change impacts and environmental degradation.
The Committee rejected Australia’s allegation that the interpretation of the ICCPR contained in this General Comment was not compatible with the rules of treaty interpretation under general international law. It then went on to recall its own earlier Teitiota v. New Zealand case (on climate-induced displacement), ultimately finding that the authors were not currently facing health impacts or real and reasonably foreseeable risks of being exposed harms to their right to life. The Committee also noted that the right-to-life claim being made largely related to the authors’ ability to maintain their culture, which falls under article 27 ICCPR.
Regarding the authors’ submission that, absent urgent action, their islands will become uninhabitable within 10 to 15 years, the Committee noted the adaptation and mitigation measures currently planned or being taken, and found that the time frame of 10 to 15 years could allow for additional protective measures or relocation programmes. As a result, it found that there had been no violation of the right to life in this case.
The authors claimed that climate change already affects their private, family and home life, given that they may be forced to abandon their homes. The Committee considered that the authors’ dependence on marine and terrestrial resources and ecosystems is a component of their traditional indigenous way of life, falling under the scope of Article 17 ICCPR.
Considering the adaptation measures and related plans in place, the Committee noted the existence of unexplained delays in seawall construction and the lack of explanation concerning the loss of marine resources, crops and fruit trees. It noted the ongoing inundation of villages and ancestral burial lands; the withering of traditional gardens through salinification; the decline of nutritionally and culturally important marine species; coral bleaching and ocean acidification; and the authors’ anxiety and distress. The Committee also noted the importance of community lands for the authors’ most important cultural ceremonies. It accordingly found that:
“that when climate change impacts – including environmental degradation on traditional [indigenous] lands (…) – have direct repercussions on the right to one’s home, and the adverse consequences of those impacts are serious because of their intensity or duration and the physical or mental harm that they cause, then the degradation of the environment may adversely affect the well-being of individuals and constitute foreseeable and serious violations of private and family life and the home.”
Finding that Australia had failed to discharge its positive obligation to implement adequate adaptation measures to protect the authors’ home, private life and family, the HRC found a violation of the authors’ rights under article 17 ICCPR.
Article 27 ICCPR recognizes the right of members of minority indigenous groups to the enjoyment of culture, and protects the survival and continued development of their cultural identity. Interpreted in the light of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, this right enshrines the inalienable right of indigenous peoples to enjoy their traditional territories and natural resources. Here, the authors argued that their ability to maintain their culture has already been impaired due to climate change impacts, which have eroded their traditional lands and natural resources, for which there is no substitute on mainland Australia. The Committee found that these climate impacts represent a threat that was reasonably foreseeable by the State party, as the authors’ community had been raising the issue since the 1990s. While noting existing seawall construction projects, it considered that the delay in initiating these projects indicated an inadequate response by the State party to the threat in question. It found that the failure to adopt timely and adequate adaptation measures “to protect the authors’ collective ability to maintain their traditional way of life, to transmit to their children and future generations their culture and traditions and use of land and sea resources discloses a violation of the State party’s positive obligation to protect the authors’ right to enjoy their minority culture.” Accordingly, it found a violation of Article 27 ICCPR.
As a result of its findings concerning Articles 17 and 27 ICCPR, the HRC considered it not necessary to examine the authors’ remaining claims under article 24 (1) ICCPR.
Under Article 2 (3) (a) ICCPR, the HRC noted that the State was required to make full reparation to the authors, which meant providing adequate compensation; engaging in meaningful consultations with their communities to conduct needs assessments; continuing its adaptation measures and monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of existing measures; and taking steps to prevent similar violations in the future. The Committee requested the State to provide it with information about the measures taken in this regard within 180 days.
Several HRC members appended individual opinions to the Views. These include:
The individual opinion by Committee Member Duncan Laki Muhumuza, arguing that there had been a violation of Article 6ICCPR (the right to life);
The individual opinion by Committee Member Gentian Zyberi, concurring but arguing that the Committee had focused too heavily on adaptation measures, and should instead have more clearly linked the right under Article 27 ICCPR to mitigation measures;
The joint opinion by Committee Members Arif Bulkan, Marcia V. J. Kran and Vasilka Sancin (partially dissenting), who argued that there had been a violation of Article 6 ICCPR (the right to life). They argued in particular that the “real and foreseeable risk” standard employed by the majority interpreted Article 6 too restrictively, and was inappropriate here as it had been borrowed from the dissimilar context of its refugee cases (Teitiota v. New Zealand, the HRC’s first climate-induced displacement case).
Maria Antonia Tigre, ‘U.N. Human Rights Committee finds that Australia is violating human rights obligations towards Torres Strait Islanders for climate inaction’, available here.
Verena Kahl, ‘Rising Before Sinking: The UN Human Rights Committee’s landmark decision in Daniel Billy et al. v. Australia,’ Verfassungsblog, 3 October 2022, available here.
Nicole Barrett and Aishani Gupta, ‘Why Did the UN Human Rights Committee Refuse Broader Protections for Climate Change Victims?’, Opinio Juris blog, 5 October 2022, available here.
Christina Voigt, ‘UNHRC is Turning up the Heat: Human Rights Violations Due to Inadequate Adaptation Action to Climate Change’, EJIL:Talk! Blog, 26 September 2022, available here.
Monica Feria-Tinta, ‘Torres Strait Islanders: United Nations Human Rights Committee Delivers Ground-Breaking Decision on Climate Change Impacts on Human Rights’, EJIL:Talk! Blog, 27 September 2022, available here.
UN Human Rights Committee, Daniel Billy et al. v. Australia, Communication No. 3624/2019, 22 September 2022, UN Doc. CCPR/C/135/D/3624/2019.
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”.
Summary: In September 2021, during the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Vanuatu, Hon. Bob Loughman Weibur, announced that the country would build a coalition of States to seek an advisory opinion on climate change from the International Court of Justice (ICJ). As of February 2023, the initiative had received support from 105 co-sponsoring states.
The proposal aims to contest “environmental devastation and large-scale violations of human rights for the most vulnerable”. Under the slogan of “bringing the world’s biggest problem to the world’s highest court”, this initative was originally spearheaded by a group of students from the University of the South Pacific. As of July 2022, the alliance behind the initative included over 1500 civil society organisations in 130 countries. It also received the endorsement of the Organisation of African, Caribbean, and Pacific States (OACPS).
In July 2022, Vanuatu’s Minister of Climate Change, Hon. Silas Bule Melve, clarified the country’s ambitions for the advisory opinion. He stated that “[t]his is not a court case, and we do not seek to assign blame. But we do seek a credible way to bolster climate ambition moving forward to save the Paris Agreement and our blue planet”. The Republic’s legal team in this endeavor is led by Julian Aguon and Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh of the Pacific law firm Blue Ocean Law.
Question to be put to the ICJ:
The resolution, which is open for co-sponsorship until its projected adoption by the General Assembly on 29 March 2023, decides, in accordance with Article 96 UN Charter, to request the ICJ, pursuant to Article 65 of its Statute, to render an advisory opinion on the following question:
“Having particular regard to the Charter of the United Nations, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the duty of due diligence, the rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the principle of prevention of significant harm to the environment and the duty to protect and preserve the marine environment,
(a) What are the obligations of States under international law to ensure the protection of the climate system and other parts of the environment from anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases for States and for present and future generations;
(b) What are the legal consequences under these obligations for States where they, by their acts and omissions, have caused significant harm to the climate system and other parts of the environment, with respect to:
(i) States, including, in particular, small island developing States, which due to their geographical circumstances and level of development, are injured or specially affected by or are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change?
(ii) Peoples and individuals of the present and future generations affected by the adverse effects of climate change?”
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.
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 future 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.
On 15 March 2022, the Government won its appeal against the judgment in this case. While the Full Federal Court upheld the primary judge’s factual findings, it unanimously (although based on several different strands of reasoning) overturned the ruling on the Ministry’s duty of care when exercising her statutory functions under the EPBC Act.
27 May 2021 (appeal judgment: 15 March 2022)
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.
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 conclude 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.”
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.
The appeal by the Ministry of Environment challenged the primary judge’s finding of a duty of care as well as specific factual findings regarding global warming and the approved project’s contribution to that.
The Full Court upheld in full the factual basis of the case as established by the primary judge. With regards to the legal grounds, it concluded however that no duty of care for human safety should be imposed upon the Minister when exercising her power under the EPBC Act.
While each of the three judges emphasized different legal aspects, their reasoning essentially centered around the following arguments: Determining the point of breach of such a duty of care would prompt core policy questions unsuited to being answered by the judiciary. A common law duty of care would be inconsistent with the Minister’s statutory powers under the EPBC Act. There is no sufficient link between the Minister’s exercise of power and the potential harm inflicted on the children. Finally, the lack of control over the risk of harm, the absence of foreseeability of a causal injury, and indeterminacy were cited to argue against the imposition of the duty.
Measures taken as a result of the judgment:
On 15 September 2021, the Minister granted approval for the proposed mine expansion.
Status of case:
Overturned on appeal (special leave application possible until 12 April 2022)
Suggested case citation:
Federal Court of Australia, Sharma by her litigation representative Sister Marie Brigid Arthur v. Minister for the Environment  FCA 560, 27 May 2021, Bromberg J.
Federal Court of Australia, Minister for the Environment v Sharma  FCAFC 35, 15 March 2022, Allsop CJ, Beach and Wheelahan JJ
Summary: On 22 November 2018, a group of 20 to 30 climate activists from the collective “BreakFree Suisse”, among them the 12 complainants, occupied the entry halls of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse in Lausanne to demonstrate against the bank’s investment in fossil fuels. The protest aimed to draw attention to this issue by condemning the participation of the Swiss tennis player Roger Federer in the advertising campaign of this bank. To do so, the activists were dressed in sports clothes and staged a tennis match. While some activists complied with the police request to leave the premises, others had to be dragged out by the police.
The activists argued that they had been in a “justifiable state of emergency” (rechtfertigender Notstand) due to climate change and that their protest was therefore lawful.
On 13 January 2020, the Tribunal de police de l’arrondissement de Lausanne (“Police Court of the district of Lausanne”) ruled in favor of the protesters. The judge found that climate change posed an imminent threat and that the protest was therefore a necessary and proportionate means to achieve the activists’ intended goal.
On 22 September 2020, this decision was overruled by the Tribunal Cantonal du Vaud (“Vaud Cantonal Tribunal”). The Court argued that the activists could have protested the bank by using other means, such as political or legal instruments. It further found that climate change is an imminent threat and that measures must be taken to address it. However, the Tribunal Cantonal du Vaud doubted that the protest could have led to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, it also noted that the Swiss government is aware of the issue and has already taken necessary measures, such as ratifying the Paris Agreement. Finally, the Court held that it is not yet too late to take the necessary protective measures to combat climate change.
On 26 May 2021, the Swiss Bundesgericht (“Swiss Federal Supreme Court”) mainly upheld the Tribunal Cantonal du Vaud’s decision. It argued further that climate change may be considered an imminent threat and that the activists did not intend to protect a specific legal interest, but rather collective interests, namely the environment, health, or the well-being of the population, and thus, the protest was not lawful.
In a similar case in Geneva, a climate activist from the same collective was on trial after putting red handprints all over the front of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse.
Rights invoked: The complainants invoked their rights to freedom of expression (Article 10 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)) and assembly and association (Article 11 ECHR).
The Swiss Bundesgericht argued that the complainants are not entitled to invoke Articles 10 and 11 ECHR in this context because they had no right to enter private property to take their actions. The freedom of assembly does not include the right to gather on private property without the owner’s consent. Consequently, the claimants could not rely on Articles 10 and 11 ECHR.
Date of decision: 26 May 2021
Suggested case citation: Swiss Bundesgericht, 12 climate protesters v. ministère public central du canton de Vaud, 6B_1295/2020, Judgment of 26 May 2021.
Links: For the judgment of the Swiss Bundesgericht (in French), see here.
For the judgment of the Tribunal Cantonal du Vaud (in French), see here.
For the judgment of the Tribunal de police de l’arrondissement de Lausanne (in French), see here.