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 Eicke.
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 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.
Admissibility: 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.”
Remedies: 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.
Date filed: 21 April 2021
More information: The complaint is available here (in Czech).
Summary: In October and December 2015, the Ogale and Bille Nigerian communities filed parallel complaints against the UK company Royal Dutch Shell plc (Shell) and its Nigerian subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in the UK High Court. The claimants sought a remedy for the extensive oil pollution caused by Shell arguing that it had affected their livelihoods and the environment. They claimed that Shell had failed to prevent oil spills and did not conduct proper clean-up. The plaintiffs argued that Shell had not seriously prevented contamination of agricultural land and waterways. They argued that Shell, as the parent company, owed them duty of care because it exercised significant control over the material aspects of SPDC’s operations and was responsible for them.
In January 2017, the High Court held that the claimants could not sue Shell in English Courts. The Court held that there was not sufficient evidence that Shell exercised a high degree of oversight, control or direction over SPDC. It therefore had no legal responsibility as a parent company for pollution by its Nigerian subsidiary. The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s decision in February 2018. The Court held that the parent company did not hold a duty of care towards the affected communities. In May 2020 the plaintiffs filed an appeal with the UK Supreme Court, arguing that the parent company Shell owed them a common law duty of care in respect to the extensive environmental harmed caused by their business operations in Nigeria. On 12 February 2021, the Supreme Court allowed the appeal and ruled that the case could proceed in the UK Courts. The decision determined that there is an arguable case that Shell is legally responsible for the pollution caused by the activities of its subsidiary to the Ogale and Bille communities.
Date of decision: 12 February 2021
Admissibility: The UK Supreme Court ruled that UK courts have jurisdiction over the case, due to the fact that the parent company may owe the plaintiffs a duty of care and therefore the action against Shell constitutes a triable issue.
Suggested citation: UK Supreme Court, Okpabi and Others v. Royal Dutch Shell and Others, UKSC 2018/0068, Judgment of 12 February 2021,  UKSC 3.
Total S.A. is a French energy company with oil projects in Uganda and Tanzania. According to the French “loi de vigilance”, companies with a certain size that meet certain criteria must develop a “plan de vigilance” documenting how they and the companies in their supply chain respect human rights and the environment in their business activities. The applicants claim that Total’s environmental plan (part of the “plan de vigilance”) is not suitable for achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. In addition to better respect for human rights, the NGOs have demanded that Total take more effective measures to protect the environment. The first instance court, the Nanterre Civil Court of Justice, found that it had no jurisdiction over the case and that it fell instead within the jurisdiction of the commercial courts. The applicant NGOs appealed. The Court of Appeal of Versailles confirmed the judgment of the first instance, and the NGOs are now considering filing an appeal before the French Supreme Court.
Admissibility: The Court confirmed the judgment of the first instance court, which had decided that the dispute fell within the jurisdiction of the commercial court.
Date of filing: 16 March 2020
Date of decision: 10 December 2020
Suggested citation: Court of Appeal of Versailles, Les Amis de la Terre, Survie v. Total SA, case no. RG20/01692, decision of 10 December 2020.
Full judgment: The full judgment is available here.
Plaintiffs comprising of 15 children and youths from various parts of Canada sued the Government and Attorney General of Canada alleging violations of the right to life and right to equality under Sections 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the constitutional and common law duty to protect the integrity of common natural resources in public trust. According to the plaintiffs, the impugned conduct of the respondents consisted in: continuing to cause, contribute to and allow a level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions incompatible with a Stable Climate System (defined as a climate capable of sustaining human life and liberties); adopting GHG emission targets that are inconsistent with the best available science about what is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change and restore a Stable Climate System; failing to meet the Defendants’ own GHG emission targets; and actively participating in and supporting the development, expansion and operation of industries and activities involving fossil fuels that emit a level of GHGs incompatible with a Stable Climate System.
The defendants, while accepting the plaintiffs’ concerns about the seriousness of climate change and its potential impacts, filed a motion to strike their claim alleging that their claim is not justiciable.
Date of decision:
27 October 2020
On 27 October 2020 the Federal Court in Ottawa granted the defendants’ motion. The Court answered the question of justiciability of the claims of Charter violations for the reason that the impugned conduct is of undue breadth and diffuse nature, and that the remedies sought by the plaintiffs were inappropriate. The Court also found that it had no constitutional obligation to intervene on the matter as there is room for disagreement between reasonable people on how climate change should be addressed. On the issue of justiciability of the public trust doctrine invoked by the plaintiffs, the Court found that the question of existence of the doctrine is a legal question which courts can resolve. However, the Court found that the plaintiffs’ claim did not disclose a reasonable prospect of success for the purposes of its admissibility.
Status of the case:
The plaintiffs have appealed against the Federal Court’s order before the Federal Court of Appeal.
Suggested case citation:
Federal Court of Ottawa, Cecilia La Rose v Her Majesty the Queen, T-1750-19, judgment of 27 October 2020, 2020 FC 1008
For the complaint filed by the plaintiffs on 25 October 2019, click here.
For the Government’s statement of defence notified on 7 February 2020, click here.
For the plaintiff’s reply to the Government’s motion to strike, filed on 31 August 2020, click here.
For the Federal Court of Ottawa’s order dated 27 October 2020, click here.
For the Memorandum of Appeal filed by the plaintiffs on 5 March 2021, click here.
Camille Cameron, Riley Weyman, ‘Recent Youth-Led and Rights-Based Climate Change Litigation in Canada: Reconciling Justiciability, Charter Claims and Procedural Choices,’ 34(1) Journal of Environmental Law (2021), Pages 195–207. Available here.
Summary: On 20 February 2020, Greenpeace Austria and other applicants called on the Austrian Constitutional Court to invalidate the preferential tax treatment of aviation companies over rail transportation companies in two Austrian tax laws. They claim that this preferential treatment would lead to an unjustified favoring of passenger air traffic and a disadvantage for less climate-damaging means of transport (e.g. railroads). Furthermore, the value-added tax exemption for cross-border flights and the kerosene exemption for domestic flights lead to higher prices for rail than for air travel and thus, contribute to climate change. Against this background, the applicants alleged that their rights under Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) were violated, since the Austrian State has not fulfilled its duty to protect its citizens from the consequences of climate change.
On 30 September 2020, the Constitutional Court dismissed the application as inadmissible because it considered that the plaintiffs were not covered by the challenged legislation, which does not apply to rail transport, but only to air transport.
One of the applicants, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and Uhthoff’s syndrome, took this case to the European Court of Human Rights. He alleges a violation of his rights under, among others, Article 8 ECHR. The case, known as Mex M. v. Austria, it was filed on 25 March 2021 and has not yet been communicated.
Date of decision: 30 September 2020
Status of case: Dismissed
Suggested citation: Austrian Verfassungsgerichtshof, Greenpeace et al. v. Austria, Decision of 30 September 2020 – G 144-145/2020-13, V 332/2020-13.
Links: For the decision of the Constitutional Court, see here.
Summary: On 12 August 2015, the case of Juliana v. the United States was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. The 21 young plaintiffs in this case, who were represented by the NGO “Our Children’s Trust”, asserted that the government had violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property through its climate change-causing actions. Moreover, they stated that the government had failed to protect essential public trust resources by encouraging and permitting the combustion of fossil fuels. The Court of Appeal held that the plaintiff’s requested remedies should be addressed by the executive and legislative branches rather than by the courts. At present, the youth plaintiffs are planning to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court or to settle discussions with the Biden-Harris administration.
Court’s decision: U.S. District Court of Oregon Judge Ann Aiken declined to dismiss the lawsuit. She ruled that access to a clean environment constitutes a fundamental right. Judge Aiken’s judgment was reversed by a Ninth Circuit Panel due to the plaintiffs’ lack of standing to sue. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recognized the gravity of the evidence on the plaintiffs’s injuries from climate change. The panel of judges recognized the existence of harms to the applicants, and the plausibility of arguing that these harms had been caused by climate change. Nevertheless, the Court held that the plaintiffs’ requested remedies should be addressed by the executive and legislative branches and not by the courts. One of the three judges affirmed the plaintiff’s constitutional climate rights in a dissent.
Date of decision: 17 January 2020
Further reading: The full text of the Ninth Circuit’s order on interlocutory appeal is available here.
Suggested citation: Juliana and Others v. the United States and Others, 947 F.3d 1159 (9th Cir. 2020).