Categories
Australia Children and young people Climate activists and human rights defenders Emissions reductions/mitigation Indigenous peoples rights Right to a healthy environment Right to culture Right to education Right to health Right to life Right to subsistence/food Uncategorized

Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) v. Australia

Summary:

In October 2021, Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) filed a complaint with three Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. This complaint was made on behalf of five young individuals residing in Australia and pertains to the ‘human rights harms’ caused by the Australian government’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) and its perceived inaction regarding climate change. EJA alleges that the Australian government is breaching international agreements, such as the Paris Agreement, and various United Nations instruments, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Claim:

The claim in this case asserts that the Australian government’s actions, particularly its NDC and its inaction on climate change, violate international agreements and human rights obligations. The complaint argues that these actions infringe upon several United Nations instruments, including the Paris Agreement, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The complainants contend that the government’s contributions to climate change potentially violate fundamental rights, including the right to health, life, family relations, an adequate standard of living, education, freedom from violence or exploitation, and the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. They also assert that these actions disproportionately impact young people, First Nations peoples, and individuals with disabilities, thus violating their rights as recognized in international law. The claim in the petition urges the Special Rapporteurs to intervene by seeking clarification from the Australian government regarding the alignment of its NDC with its human rights obligations and its consistency with a 1.5-degree climate pathway. It also requests an explanation of how the government’s NDC decision-making process has engaged young people in Australia. The claim further calls on Australia to establish a 2030 emissions reduction target that complies with its human rights obligations, especially regarding the rights of young people and the complainants.

Links:

The complaint is accessible for download here and below.

Status of the case:

Pending.

Suggested citation:

Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) v. Australia, United Nations Special Rapporteurs, 25 October 2021 (United Nations).

Last updated:

03 November 2023.

Categories
2022 Class action Climate activists and human rights defenders Domestic court Emissions reductions/mitigation Indigenous peoples rights New Zealand Right to life Self-determination

Smith v. Attorney-General

Summary:

In March 2022, a prominent Māori landowner and advocate for tribal climate concerns took a significant step by bringing a case before the High Court of New Zealand. The central argument of the case was that the government had violated fundamental human rights, particularly the right to life and minority rights, due to its inadequate response to climate change. The plaintiff’s core contention was that successive governments had consistently failed to address the severe consequences of climate change, with a particular emphasis on its disproportionate impact on the Māori community.

Initially, the case centred on a single cause of action, which involved the government’s breach of duty to take all necessary steps to reduce New Zealand emissions and actively protect the plaintiff and his descendants from the adverse effects of climate change. Later, following a court order issued by Justice Johnston in May 2020, the plaintiff expanded the case to include two additional distinct causes of action. These additional claims were based on alleged violations of the rights to life and the rights of minorities as outlined in sections 8 and 20 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, and the government’s failure to act in accordance with its obligations as stipulated in the Treaty of Waitangi (one of New Zealand’s founding documents, agreed in 1840 between the British Crown and Māori leaders). The Court eventually dismissed all three claims.

Claim:

The plaintiff’s claim was multi-faceted, asserting that the government’s actions, or lack thereof, constituted violations of human rights, particularly the right to life and minority rights, with a focus on the Māori population. The claim included allegations concerning the breach of duty, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, and the Treaty of Waitangi.

Decision:

On July 15, 2022, the Court rendered a decision in favour of the government, dismissing all three claims presented by the plaintiff. The Court found the plaintiff’s common law duty of care claim untenable, reasoning that it failed to define specific legal obligations and exceeded the boundaries of incremental development of new duties. Moreover, the Court asserted that the creation of an effective remedy, such as court-monitored monitoring, would necessitate an institutional expertise, democratic participation, and accountability beyond the capabilities of the court process alone.

The Court also rejected the plaintiff’s assertion regarding the right to life, deeming it untenable due to the absence of substantial evidence indicating a ‘real and identifiable’ threat to individuals or groups. Instead, the Court viewed climate change as a general threat impacting all New Zealanders due to its broad-reaching consequences. The Court further noted that the plaintiff’s argument concerning the breach of minority rights lacked merit since the relevant regulations primarily prohibited the Crown from infringing upon minority rights rather than imposing positive duties.

Additionally, the Court clarified that claims based on the Treaty and fiduciary obligations were not valid, as they hinged on the same general duty initially put forth in the first cause of action, which the Court had already rejected as unsound. The Court emphasized that the plaintiff’s contention that this duty was owed exclusively to the Māori population, rather than the wider public, further undermined its validity.

Links:

The case documents are accessible via Climate Case Chart: Click here.

Status of the case:

Judgment

Suggested citation:

Michael John Smith v. The Attorney-General, [2022] NZHC 1693 (15 July 2022), The High Court of New Zealand.

Last updated:

20 October 2023.

Categories
2023 Colombia Domestic court Emissions reductions/mitigation Indigenous peoples rights Indigenous peoples' rights Just transition litigation Participation rights Right to culture Self-determination Uncategorized

Pirá Paraná Indigenous Council and Another v. Ministry of Environment and Others (Pirá Paraná Case)

Summary:

On July 15th, 2022, the Pirá Paraná Indigenous Council, in collaboration with the Association of Indigenous Traditional Authorities of the River Pirá Paraná, initiated a ‘tutela’ proceeding against private corporations and Colombian authorities. This expedited legal procedure is only available when regular mechanisms are deemed inadequate to ensure the protection of the plaintiffs’ rights. The legal action arises from concerns related to the Baka Rokarire project, particularly its carbon credit initiatives, within the Indigenous territory situated in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, located in the Vaupés region. The central issue at hand is the potential violation of Indigenous fundamental human rights, including self-determination, self-governance, and the preservation of cultural diversity and integrity. The claimants argue that the individual who represented the Indigenous community in the project lacked proper legitimacy, while public authorities allegedly failed to safeguard Indigenous rights throughout the project’s registration and development. Private companies are accused of neglecting human rights due diligence standards and deliberately excluding Indigenous authorities from the decision-making process.

Claim:

The plaintiffs argue that the Baka Rokarire project, especially its carbon credit initiatives, violate their fundamental human rights as Indigenous people. Importantly, the lawsuit filed by the Pirá Paraná community does not contest land ownership rights but instead focuses on preserving the integrity of the territory, which holds great cultural and ancestral significance for Indigenous populations. Their primary concern centers around the absence of genuine Indigenous representation in the project’s agreement. Furthermore, they accuse public authorities of failing to fulfill their responsibilities in safeguarding Indigenous rights during the project’s registration and execution. Private companies involved are accused of neglecting human rights due diligence standards and intentionally excluding Indigenous authorities from the project’s development. The main argument is that the potential negative impact on Indigenous rights justifies legal intervention.

Decision:

Initially, based on the subsidiarity of the tutela mechanism, the Judicial Court deemed the case inadmissible, citing that the plaintiffs could have pursued other available legal avenues. The court’s rationale was that the tutela mechanism was not the suitable course of action in this instance, as there was no clear evidence indicating the presence of irreparable damage in the case. The Administrative Tribunal upheld this decision. However, in April 2023, a significant development occurred when Colombia’s Constitutional Court took the unprecedented step of reviewing the case. This marks the first-ever evaluation of a case involving the voluntary carbon market, potentially setting a legal precedent that will delineate the boundaries of activities permitted within territories inhabited by Indigenous communities in carbon credit projects. The Constitutional Court’s review will also encompass an examination of whether the tutela mechanism is the appropriate means for challenging these projects, especially concerning Indigenous rights. This decision to review represents a noteworthy opportunity to provide clarity regarding Indigenous rights and cultural preservation within the context of carbon offset initiatives.

Links:

The case documents are accessible via Climate Case Chart: Click here.

Status of the case:

The case is currently pending before the Constitutional Court of Colombia.

Last updated:

05 October 2023.

Categories
Children and young people Climate activists and human rights defenders Domestic court Emissions reductions/mitigation European Convention on Human Rights Indigenous peoples rights Indigenous peoples' rights Non-discrimination Paris Agreement Private and family life Prohibition of torture Right to a healthy environment Right to culture Right to health Right to housing Right to life Right to property Russian Federation

Ecodefense and Others v. Russia

Summary:
In 2022, the NGOs Ecodefense and Moscow Helsinki Group, together with a group of individual plaintiffs representing Fridays for Future and the Sami and Itelmen indigenous people, brought an administrative action before the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation seeking to declare the Russian Federation’s climate legislation invalid. They argue that the current measures are not in line with the temperature targets under the Paris Agreement, noting that Russia is currently the fourth biggest global carbon emitter. They submit that Russia is accordingly in violation of its own constitution, as well as of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Russia ceased to be a party to the ECHR on 16 September 2022.

Key arguments:
The plaintiffs invoke a number of human and constitutional rights, arguing that their right to life, to health care, to a healthy environment (which is recognized by the Russian Constitution), to the protection of land and other natural resources as the basis of the life and activities of indigenous peoples, and to the protection of young people and future generations (based on the principle of equality). They also invoke the prohibition of torture and the right to home, private life and property as well as the prohibition of discrimination and the right to an adequate standard of living.

On this basis, the plaintiffs argue that the existing Russian climate policy measures are not only incompatible with domestic law, but that they also violate Russia’s international legal obligations under the UNFCCC, the Paris Agreement, the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the ECHR. The plaintiffs also contest the emphasis on carbon absorption (and not GHG emissions reductions) in the current Russian strategy, which they argue does not suffice to do Russia’s “fair share” to keep global warming below the Paris Agreement’s targets of 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius.

Status:
Pending

Further information:
A summary of the plaintiff’s submissions in this case is available via ClimateCaseChart.com.

Suggested citation:
Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, Ecodefense and Others v. Russia, pending case, submitted on 11 September 2022.

Last updated:
4 August 2023

Categories
Australia Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions/mitigation Fossil fuel extraction Indigenous peoples rights Non-discrimination Private and family life Right to life Right to property

Waratah Coal Pty Ltd v. Youth Verdict Ltd & Ors

Summary:

The case concerns the applications by Waratah Coal Pty Ltd. (WC) for a ‘mining license’ and an ‘environmental authority’ under the Australian mining regulation and environmental protection legislation. These would allow it to mine coal in areas of the Galilee Basin, including parts of a protected area under the nature conservation law.  

The case reached the Land Court of Queensland on account of objections by environmental groups to WC’s applications. The Land Court of Queensland’s role was to provide a recommendation to the governmental authorities responsible for deciding on the applications after reviewing their merits (considering the compatibility of the proposed project with the environmental laws in Australia). However, the Court also found that the human rights implications of the coal mining project were relevant. The justification for this was that the court was directly bound by the Human Rights Act 2019 to not make a decision that is incompatible with human rights.

In its lengthy judgment, Court concluded on the basis of the evidence available to it and the interests at stake that it could not recommend the approval of WC’s applications.

Claims:

The objectors to WC’s applications raised several contentions in regards to the local and global environmental impacts of allowing coal mining in the Galilee Basin (including its contribution to climate change), as well as interference with private property rights. WC refuted these contentions and found that several issues raised by the objectors were irrelevant to the decision of their applications.  

In regards to climate change, WC disagreed that the emissions produced by foreign consumers of the mined coal are a relevant consideration. It argued that approving the mining of coal does not entail approving its combustion, and that the responsibility for the emissions from the latter falls on importing countries which decide to do so.  WC also argued that the mine will make no difference to total emissions because it would displace lower quality coal with higher greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  

Decision:

The Court framed its recommendation as pertaining to the specific coal mining project in question rather than coal mining in general. It was not convinced by the evidence put forth by WC with respect to the adequacy of its plans of offsetting the environmental impacts which would follow from the coal mining project.

In relation to climate change, the Court found that the mitigation of climate change was amongst the public interests which needed to be considered in the balance against the public interest considerations in support of the project (such as economic development). While the Court acknowledged that the project itself would not necessarily put Australia over its greenhouse gas emissions budget or lead to an exceedence of the temperature limits set by the Paris Agreement, Australia’s limited carbon budget and the risks of exceeding the 1.5° and 2°degree C temperature limits, and Queensland’s intention to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, were strong factors which supported the refusal of the project. 

The Court rejected WC’s contentions in regards to foreign emissions from the combustion of the coal mined by WC, finding that not considering them would be inconsistent with the public interest criterion in the environmental protection legislation.

The Court found that the human rights to life, protection of children, culture of First Nations People, privacy and home, property, and the enjoyment by certain groups of rights without discrimination were engaged by the coal mining project. In its assessment, the project constituted a ‘limit’ to these rights owing to its causal link with climate change which, in turn, affects the enjoyment of these rights. The Court concluded that the economic and other public interest benefits of the project were not sufficient to justify the limitation of human rights which would result from the project.

Links:

For full judgment of 25 November 2022, see here.

Suggested case citation:

Land Court of Queensland, Waratah Coal Pty Ltd v Youth Verdict Ltd & Ors (No 6) [2022] QLC 21, 25 November 2022, President Fleur Kingham.

Last updated:

03 August 2023.

Categories
Brazil Deforestation Domestic court Emissions reductions/mitigation Indigenous peoples rights Indigenous peoples' rights Right to a healthy environment Right to culture

PSB et. al. v. Brazil (Amazon deforestation)

Summary:

On 11 November 2020, seven political parties with representation in Brazil’s National Congress brought an action against the Brazilian government before the Federal Supreme Court of Brazil. The petition sought the effective implementation of the public policy to combat deforestation in Brazilian Amazon, viz. the Action Plan for Prevention and Control of the Legal Amazon Deforestation (PPCDAm). The petition is in the nature of an Allegation of Disobedience of Fundamental Precept (ADPF). The ADPF claimed that the government’s actions and omissions in relation to the protection of forests in the Amazon, including within Indigenous Lands and Federal Conservation Units violates constitutional rights and prevents Brazil from fulfilling its climate targets assumed under the Paris Agreement and transposed into national laws.  

The Federal Supreme Court decided in favour of the petitioners and ordered the Federal government to resume the PPCDAm, and strengthen the governmental organs linked to the socio-environmental agenda. The effect of this order was stopped on account of another judge of the Federal Supreme Court seeking a review of the decision.  

Facts of the case:

The petitioners earmarked 2019-2020 as the relevant period for the purposes of the ADPF, since this period is allegedly marked by unprecedented attacks on Article 225 of the Brazilian Constitution which guarantees the right to an ecologically balanced environment. The petitioners alleged that the government abandoned and stopped enforcing the PPCDAm. They further alleged that the government has explicitly refused to cooperate with monitoring agencies and authorities for inspection and control of the use of forests (including the Brazilian Environmental Protection Agency); frozen the financing for the public policy for combating deforestation; and increased environmental deregulation. By way of evidence, the petitioners relied on statistics demonstrating an increase in deforestation notwithstanding a drastic reduction in notices of violations and cease-and-desist orders relating to forest conservation laws. They also relied on budget data of the main agencies which are entrusted with the execution of the public policy on combatting deforestation, and evidence pointing to the non-cooperation of the military in enforcement action.  

Claims:

The petition alleged violations of constitutional rights, viz. the right of present and future generations to an ecologically balanced environment (Article 225), which they argue includes a derivative ‘fundamental the integrity of the climate system or a fundamental right to a stable and secure climate’; rights of indigenous peoples to their traditional lands (Article 231); and cultural rights (Articles 215 and 216). The petitioners also argued that the government’s lack of transparency about implementation of the PPCDAm, its campaign to discredit agencies and institutions which provide data and information on the environment, including Federal agencies, and its denial of deforestation and climate change constitute violations of the right to information.  

The Attorney General argued against the admissibility of the action on multiple grounds, viz. (i) that the action does not concern a constitutional issue and is rather a matter of administrative law, since the reliefs (administrative measures) requested by the petitioners do not directly follow from the text of the Brazilian Constitution; (ii) that admitting the case would run counter to the subsidiarity principle enshrined in the procedural law of the Federal Supreme Court, which requires that it should avoid admitting actions in the nature of an ADPF when there are other effective means of remedying the damage; and (iii) that the procedure for control of constitutionality is not suitable for allowing broad examination of evidence. The Attorney General further refuted the statistical evidence raised by the petitioners arguing that the reduction in number of notices of violations and cease-and-desist orders was attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic. On the merits, the Attorney General contended that the Federal Government had the prerogative to modulate its administrative strategies in line with the legal framework.  

Decision:

On 6 April 2022, Minister Cármen Lúcia of the Federal Supreme Court issued a decision in favour of the petitioners. She rejected the contentions of the Attorney General, deciding that there is no doubt as to the constitutional nature of the issues raised in the action; that a review of the Federal government’s actions in relation to the problem of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, which has negative repercussions for the climate, falls within the Federal Supreme Court’s jurisdiction; and the examination of evidence is not practically difficult (owing to the sufficiency of the information provided by governmental agencies and amici curae). The decision notes that non-compliance by Brazilian state organs with commitments under international environmental treaties amounts to a violation of the environmental duties emanating from the Constitution. Reading the principle of non-retrogression into Article 225 of the Constitution, the decision identifies acts of the Federal Government which were contrary to such principle.  

Relief:

The Court declared that the situation regarding the illegal deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and the omissions of the Brazilian State in relation to its protective functions was unconstitutional. It ordered the Federal Government to present a detailed plan for the implementation of the PPCDAs and effective protection measures relating to the Amazon forest and the rights of indigenous peoples and other inhabitants in protected areas, within 30 days from the decision. The decision also lists concrete benchmarks and targets that the Federal Government’s plan ought to be based on and seek to achieve.  

Status:

Immediately following Minister Cármen Lúcia’s decision, Minister André Mendonça of the Federal Supreme Court requested a review of that decision, which effectively blocked the decision. As a result, the effect of the decision requiring the Federal Government to take certain actions within a set date stands suspended. The case is still pending before the Federal Supreme Court.  

Links:

Petition (accessible via Climate Case Chart: Portuguese, Unofficial English translation).

Decision (in Portuguese).

For further procedural information, visit Supremo Tribunal Federal.  

Suggested citation:

Brazilian Federal Supreme Court, PSB et al. v. Brazil, case ADPF 760, decision of 6 April 2022.

 Last updated:

03 August 2023.

Categories
Adaptation Biodiversity Children and young people Climate activists and human rights defenders Climate-induced displacement Deforestation Emissions reductions/mitigation Evidence Gender / women-led Indigenous peoples rights Indigenous peoples' rights Inter-American Human Rights System Loss & damage Paris Agreement Right to a healthy environment Right to health Right to life Right to property Rights of nature Vulnerability

The 2023 Advisory Opinion Request to the IACtHR on the Climate Emergency

Summary:
On 9 January 2023, the governments of Colombia and Chile jointly filed a request for an advisory opinion on the climate emergency and human rights to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The two governments requested clarification of the scope of States’ obligations, both in their individual and collective dimensions, in responding to the climate emergency within the framework of international human rights law, taking into account the different effects that climate change has on people in different regions and on different population groups, nature and human survival.

The governments asked the Inter-American Court to answer a series of questions grouped into six thematic areas, namely:

A. On the scope of States’ obligations to protect and prevent, including regarding their obligations to mitigate, adapt, regulate and monitor, and their response to loss and damage;

B. On States’ obligations to protect the right to life given the existing climate science, and taking into account the right of access to information and transparency of information, including under the Escazú Agreement;

C. On the obligations of States with respect to the rights of children and new generations, given especially the vulnerability of children;

D. On the State’s obligations concerning consultative and judicial procedures, taking into account the limited remaining carbon budget;

E. On the protective and preventative obligations concerning environmental and land rights defenders, as well as women, indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant communities; and

F. On shared and differentiated obligations and responsibilities in terms of the rights of States, the obligation of cooperation and given the impacts on human mobility (migration and forced displacement of people).

Extended summary:
In their request to the IACtHR, the two governments submit that they are already dealing with the consequences of the climate emergency, including the proliferation of droughts, floods, landslides and fires. These, they submit, underscore the need for a response based on the principles of equity, justice, cooperation and sustainability, as well as human rights. The two governments note that climate change is already putting humans and future generations at risk, but that its effects are not being experienced uniformly across the international community. Instead, given their geography, climatic conditions, socioeconomic conditions and infrastructure, they are particularly being felt in the most vulnerable communities, including several countries in the Americas. They emphasize that these effects are not proportionate to these countries’ and communities’ contribution to climate change.

The governments, in their request, emphasize the relevance of the right to a healthy environment, as well as other interrelated substantive and procedural rights (affecting life, human survival and future generations). They review the existing scientific evidence concerning the impacts and progression of climate change from the IPCC, and note the vulnerability of the Andean region. Emphasizing the utility of the human rights framework for understanding these harms, and “to advance and accelerate the collective response to the climate emergency in each State, regionally and globally”, they ask the Court to answer a series of questions “in order to provide guidance towards solutions based on human rights, with an intersectional perspective.” In doing so, they note the need for clear inter-American standards to accelerate the response to the climate emergency, arguing that while the concrete measures taken may vary, human rights obligations should be the framework for accelerating the response in a just, equitable and sustainable way.

The two governments refer to the 2017 Advisory Opinion of the IACtHR, which recognized the right to a healthy environment as an autonomous and individual right, and referred to the negative effects of climate change. However, they argue, there is a need to further clarify the human rights imapcts of climate change, and corresponding obligations. In this regard, they raise the existence also of collective rights for the protection of nature under international human rights and environmental law, and cite the need to protect fundamental biomes like the Amazon and to understand States’ shared but differentiated responsibilities in a way that copes with loss and damage. The two governments invite the Court to set out clear standards against the background of litigation and related developments, citing the Vanuatu advisory opinion request to the ICJ, the pending cases before the European Court of Human Rights, and the UN HRC’s Billy and ors. v. Australia case. An advisory opinion from the Court, they argue, would provide States with guidance for setting out domestic policies and programmes.

The questions asked:

A. On the State’s obligations of prevention and protection

Question A.1: What is the scope of States’ obligation to prevent climate phenomena created by global warming, including extreme events and slow-onset events, in accordance with their inter-American treaty obligations and in light of the Paris Agreement and the scientific consensus that calls to limit the increase in global temperature to 1.5°C?

Question A.2: In particular, what actions should States take to minimize the impact of climate-related damage, in light of their obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR)? In this regard, what differentiated measures must be taken with respect to vulnerable populations or intersectional considerations?

Question A.2.A.: What must States consider in implementing their obligation to (i) regulate, (ii) monitor and oversee, (iii) order and approve social and environmental impact studies, (iv) establish a contingency plan, and (v) mitigate activities within their jurisdiction that aggravate or may aggravate the climate emergency?

Question A.2.B.: What principles should guide action towards mitigation, adaptation and the response to loss and damage created by the climate emergency in affected communities?

B. On the State’s obligations to protect the right to life given the existing scientific consensus

Taking into account the right to access to information and the obligations concerning the active production and transparency of information derived from Arts. 14, 4.1 and 5.1. of the ACHR, in light of Arts. 5 and 6 of the Escazú Agreement, the governments ask the Court to determine:

Question B.1.: What is the scope of States’ obligations in the face of the climate emergency, in terms of:

  • (i) the environmental information required;
  • (ii) the mitigation and climate adaptation measures to be adopted to address the climate emergency and the impacts of such measures, including specific just transition policies for groups and people particularly vulnerable to global warming;
  • iii) responses to prevent, minimize and address economic and non-economic loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change;
  • iv) the production of information and access to information on greenhouse gas emissions levels, air pollution, deforestation, and short-lived climate pollutants, analysis of sectors or activities that contribute to emissions, and more; and
  • v) establishing impacts on people, such as on human mobility (migration and forced displacement), effects on health and life, non-economic losses, etc.?

Question B.2.: To what extent does access to environmental information constitute a right that must be ensured to guarantee the rights to life, property, health, participation and access to justice, among other rights that are negatively affected by climate change, in accordance with the State’s obligations under the ACHR?

C. On the differentiated obligations of States with respect to the rights of children and new generations

Citing Art. 19 ACHR and Art. 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and recognizing the consensus of the scientific community that identifies children as the group most vulnerable in the long term to the imminent risks to life and well-being expected to result from the climate emergency, the govenments ask the Court to determine:

Question C.1.: What is the nature and scope of a State Party’s obligation to adopt timely and effective measures in the face of the climate emergency to ensure the protection of children’s rights derived from its obligations under Articles 1, 4, 5, 11 and 19 ACHR?

Question C.2: What is the nature and extent of a State Party’s obligation to provide children with meaningful and effective means to freely and fully express their views, including the opportunity to initiate, or otherwise participate in, any judicial or administrative proceedings concerning the prevention of climate change that constitutes a threat to their lives?

D. On the State’s obligations concerning consultative and judicial procedures

In consideration of Arts. 8 and 25 ACHR, and taking into account the scientific finding that there is a limited greenhouse gas budget that can still be emitted before reaching a dangerous and irrevocable level of climate change, and that this budget would be exhausted within a decade, the States ask the Court to clarify:

Question D.1.: What is the nature and extent of the State Parties’ obligation concerning to the provision of effective judicial remedies to provide adequate and timely protection and redress for the impairment of rights due to the climate emergency?

Question D.2.: To what extent should the obligation to consult take into account the climatic consequences of a given activity or projections concerning the emergency?

E. On the protective and preventative obligations concerning environmental and land rights defenders, as well as for women, indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant communities

In accordance with Arts. 1.1 and 2 ACHR and Art. 9 of the Escazú Agreement, the governments as the IACtHR to determine:

Question E.1.: What measures and policies should States adopt in order to facilitate the work of environmental defenders?

Question E.2.: What specific considerations should be taken into account to guarantee women human rights defenders’ right to defend the healthy environment and their land?

Question E.3.: What specific considerations should be taken into account to guarantee the right to defend the healthy environment and land in light of intersectional factors and differentiated impacts, among others, on indigenous peoples, peasant communities and Afro-descendants?

Question E.4.: In the face of the climate emergency, what information should the State produce and publish in order to determine the possibility of investigating various crimes committed against human rights defenders, including reports of threats, kidnappings, homicides, forced displacement, gender violence, discrimination, etc.?

Question E.5.: What due diligence measures should States take into account to ensure that attacks and threats against environmental defenders in the context of the climate emergency do not go unpunished?

F. On shared and differentiated obligations and responsibilities in terms of the rights of States

Bearing in mind that the climate emergency affects the entire world, and that obligations to cooperate and repair arise from the ACHR and other international treaties:

Question F.1.: What considerations and principles should States and international organizations, collectively and regionally, take into account in analyzing shared but differentiated responsibilities in the face of climate change from a human rights and intersectionality perspective?

Question F.2.: How should States act both individually and collectively to guarantee the right to reparation for the damages generated by their actions or omissions in the face of the climate emergency, taking into account considerations of equity, justice and sustainability?

Taking into account that the climate crisis has a greater impact on some regions and populations, among them, the Caribbean, island and coastal countries and territories of the Americas, and their inhabitants:

Question F.3.: How should the obligations of cooperation between States be interpreted?

Question F.4.: What obligations and principles should guide the actions of States in order to ensure the right to life and survival of the most affected regions and populations in different countries and in the region?

Considering that one of the impacts of the climate emergency is to aggravate the factors that lead to human mobility (migration and forced displacement of people):

Question F.5.: What obligations and principles should guide the individual and coordinated actions to be taken by States in the region to address non-voluntary human mobility exacerbated by the climate emergency?

Consultation procedure:

In accordance with the Rules of Procedure of the IACtHR (Art. 73(3)), all interested parties (individuals and organizations) are invited to present a written opinion on the issues covered in the advisory opinion request. The President of the Court has established 18 August 2023 as the deadline for doing so. More information is available here.

Further information:

  • The text of the advisory opinion request is available here (in the official Spanish version as filed with the Court) and it has also been translated to English, French and Portuguese by the Court’s Secretariat.
  • For a comment by Juan Auz and Thalia Viveros-Uehara, see ‘Another Advisory Opinion on the Climate Emergency? The Added Value of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’, EJIL:Talk! Blog, 2 March 2023, available here.
  • For a comment from Maria Antonia Tigre, see ‘A Request for an Advisory Opinion at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights: Initial Reactions’, Climate Law Blog, 17 February 2023, available here.
Categories
2020 Canada Domestic court Emissions reductions/mitigation Indigenous peoples rights Indigenous peoples' rights Non-discrimination Right to life Separation of powers

Lho’imggin et al. v. Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Adaptation Australia Climate-induced displacement Human Rights Committee Imminent risk Indigenous peoples rights Indigenous peoples' rights Private and family life Right to culture Right to life Sea-level rise Standing/admissibility Vulnerability

Billy et al. v. Australia (Torres Straits Islanders case)

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.”

Outcome:

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.

Merits:

Article 6

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.

Article 17

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

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.

Remedies:

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.

Separate opinions:

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 6 ICCPR (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).

Full decision:

The HRC’s Views are available here.

Further reading:

  • 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.

Suggested citation:

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.

Categories
Biodiversity Brazil Deforestation Indigenous peoples rights Indigenous peoples' rights International Criminal Court Right to a healthy environment Right to culture Right to health

The Prosecutor v. Bolsonaro

Summary:
On 12 October 2021, the Austrian NGO AllRise, which advocates for interests linked with the environment, democracy, and the rule of law, submitted a communication to the International Criminal Court in the Hague concerning then-acting Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Although NGOs cannot initiate proceedings before the ICC, the Prosecutor can do so proprio motu (Art. 15(1) Rome Statute), and the communication’s aim is to convince the Prosectuor to do so regarding President Bolsonaro’s policy on the Amazon rainforest.

AllRise contends that the Bolsonaro government’s socio-economic policy has put the lives of environmental advocates at risk, and has dismantled the protections of the environment that were previously available under domestic law, which as facilitated the activities of criminal networks. By failing to prosecute the perpetrators of environmental crimes and undermining the protection of the climate, human health, and justice, AllRise argues, the Bolsonaro government has committed crimes against humanity, as proscribed by the Rome Statute of the ICC.

The NGO’s communication is supported by the Climate Observatory (Observatório do Clima), a network of 70 Brazilian civil society organizations.

Human rights claims:
AllRise argues that ‘these Environmental Dependents and Defenders have been and continue to be the subject of Crimes Against Humanity through severe deprivations of their fundamental and universal right to a healthy environment (also known as R2E) and other human rights related thereto’ (para. 15). It likewise invoked the rights of indigenous peoples, arguing that ‘[t]he destruction of the rainforest and the rivers of the Amazon has a devastating impact on the traditional, cultural and spiritual way of life of Indigenous peoples and others who depend upon the forest’ (para. 164). The NGO also describes the background of attacks and violence against environmental activists and human rights defenders (paras. 201-208).

More information:
To read the full complaint, click here.