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Duarte Agostinho et al. v. Austria et al.

Summary:
This case was brought by a group of six young people, acting together as the ‘Youth for Climate Justice’, against 33 Council of Europe Member States. Theirs is the first climate case to come before the ECtHR. In their application, the six applicants, who are aged between 8 and 21, argue that the 33 respondent States have failed to comply with their positive obligations under Articles 2 and 8 of the Convention, read in the light of the commitments made under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. They claim that their right to life (Art. 2 ECHR) is being threatened by the effects of climate change in their home State of Portugal, including through the harms caused by forest fires. Moreover, they claim that their right to respect for their private and family life under Art. 8 ECHR is being threatened by heatwaves that force them to spend more time indoors. They also note their anxiety about their uncertain future, and the fact that, as young people, they stand to experience the worst effects of climate change. They accordingly allege a violation of Article 14 ECHR (non-discrimination), given the particular impacts of climate change on their generation. According to the applicants, the absence of adequate measures to limit global emissions constitutes, in itself, a breach of the obligations incumbent on States.

This is the first climate application brought before the European Court of Human Rights, and it was brought with the support of the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN). The issues raised here are novel in the Strasbourg context. In addition, in communicating the case, the Court also proprio motu raised an issue under Article 3 ECHR, the prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.

Domestic proceedings:
None, this case was brought directly to the ECtHR. The applicants submit that, given the complexity of the case and their limited financial means, requiring them to exhaust the domestic remedies in each of the 33 respondent States would impose an excessive and disproportionate burden on them.

Admissibility:
Pending

Merits:
Pending

Remedies:
Pending

Separate opinions:
Pending

Implementation measures taken:
N/A

Date:
Pending

Type of Forum:
Regional

Status of case:
Communicated by the Court on 30 November 2020

Suggested case citation:
ECtHR, Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and 32 Other Member States, no. 39371/20, Communicated Case, 30 November 2020

Links:

For more information on the case, see the following links.

  • For more background on the case and profiles on the applicants, click here: https://youth4climatejustice.org/
  • For the original application for as submitted to the Court, click here
  • To see all of the third party interventions filed in the case to date (eight in total), click here.
  • To read the observations of the 33 respondent states in this case, click here.

Categories
2020 Austria Domestic court Emissions reductions European Convention on Human Rights Keywords Paris Agreement Private and family life Right to life Rights at stake Standing/admissibility State concerned Year

Greenpeace et al. v. Austria (The Zoubek Case)

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.

For the application, see here.

Categories
2020 Domestic court Emissions reductions European Convention on Human Rights Ireland Paris Agreement Private and family life Right to life

Friends of the Irish Environment v. Government of Ireland

Summary:
In this case, brought before the Irish Supreme Court by the environmental activist group Friends of the Irish Environment, the Supreme Court quashed the Irish National Mitigation Plan of 2017 on the grounds that it was incompatible with the Irish Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 (the 2015 Climate Act). The Supreme Court ordered the creation of a new, Climate Act-compliant plan.

Facts:
The case was premised on evidence that Ireland was set to miss its 2030 mitigation targets by a substantial degree.

Domestic instances:
The applicant’s claim was unsuccessful before the High Court. After the High Court proceedings were concluded, the Irish Supreme Court agreed to hear the case directly, without first seizing the Court of Appeal with the case. In doing so, the Supreme Court noted the “general public and legal importance” of the case, and the fact that the seriousness of climate change, the climate science, and the emissions at stake were not contested.

Merits:
In a unanimous seven-judge judgment, delivered by Chief Justice Clarke on 31 July 2020, the Supreme Court found that the Mitigation Plan did not reach the level of detail required under the 2015 Climate Act and was ultra vires that Act.

However, the judges did not allow the applicants’ rights-based arguments. Because Friends of the Irish Environment was a corporate entity, it did not enjoy the right to life or bodily integrity under the ECHR and the Irish Constitution, and lacked standing to bring these claims. Chief Justice Clarke CJ accepted that constitutional rights could be engaged in environmental cases, but held that the Irish Constitution does not contain a right to a healthy environment.

Date of judgment:
31 July 2020

Suggested citation:
Supreme Court of Ireland, Friends of the Irish Environment v. The Government of Ireland and Others, Judgment of 31 July 2020, [2020] IESC 49.

Further reading:
Orla Kelleher, ‘The Supreme Court of Ireland’s decision in Friends of the Irish Environment v Government of Ireland (“Climate Case Ireland”)’ in EJIL Talk!, 9 September 2020.

The full text of the judgment is available here.

Categories
Domestic court Emissions reductions European Convention on Human Rights Paris Agreement Private and family life Right to life The Netherlands

Urgenda Foundation v. the Netherlands

Summary:
This case, brought in 2013 by the Urgenda foundation and hundreds of Dutch citizens against the Netherlands, has become the leading climate and human rights judgment, and served as inspiration for similar litigation around the world. The final judgment in this case was issued in 2019, and in this case the domestic courts not only found that the Dutch climate policy had violated Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the rights to life and respect for private and family life, respectively), but also issued an injunction requiring greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

Remedies ordered:
District Court of The Hague had previously ruled that the government was obligated to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020 in comparison to 1990 levels. The District Court’s decision was appealed by the State. The Court of Appeal upheld the District Court’s decision on 9 October 2018. After the State’s appeal to the Supreme Court, the Supreme court ruled in favour of Urgenda and held that the government has a legal duty to prevent dangerous climate change.

Date of final domestic judgment:
20 December 2019

More on this case:
For the final judgment in Dutch, click here.

For the summary provided by the Supreme Court (English), click here.

Recommended reading:
Ingrid Leijten, ‘Human Rights v. Insufficient Climate Action: The Urgenda Case’ 37(2) Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights (2019)

Benoit Mayer, ‘The State of the Netherlands v. Urgenda Foundation: Ruling of the Court of Appeal of The Hague (9 October 2018)’ 8(1) Transnational Environmental Law (2019), 167-192.

Maiko Meguro, ‘State of the Netherlands v. Urgenda Foundation’ 114(4) American Journal of International Law (2020), 729-735.

Suggested citation:
Dutch Supreme Court (Hoge Raad), Urgenda Foundation v. the Netherlands, Judgment of 20 December 2019, No. 19/00135, ECLI:NL:HR:2019:2006.

Categories
2006 Biodiversity Emissions reductions Extraterritorial obligations Freedom of movement Indigenous peoples' rights Inter-American Human Rights System Private and family life Right to culture Right to health Right to property Right to subsistence/food United States of America

Sheila Watt-Cloutier et al. v. the United States of America

Summary:
Filed in 2005 by members of the Inuit people living in Canada, this application concerned the climate change-related responsibility of the United States of America. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights refused to examine the case on the grounds that the information provided was insufficient.

More information on the petition:
In this petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an Inuk woman and Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference living in Canada, sought relief from human rights violations related to climate change caused by the acts and omissions of the United States. Ms. Watt-Cloutier, on behalf of herself, 62 other individuals, and all of the Inuit of the arctic regions of the United States of America and Canada, sought relief against the effects of climate change, which — it was argued — have the potential to affect every aspect of the life of the Inuit people, including the quality of the permafrost, land and water, biodiversity and food sources, and cultural rights. The petitioners relied on the United States’ obligations under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and other instruments that shape these obligations under the Declaration, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

This case was extraterritorially framed: it was brought by Inuit people living in Canada, but against the United States of America for its climate change-related human rights impacts. The petitioners argued that the acts and omissions by the United States had violated the Inuit’s rights to the benefits of culture, to property, to the preservation of health, life, physical integrity, security, and a means of subsistence, and to residence, movement, and inviolability of the home under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and other international instruments.

Outcome:
On 16 November 2006, the Commission refused to consider the petition because it considered that it had provided insufficient information. Specifically, it found that the petition did not “enable us [the Commission] to determine whether the alleged facts would tend to characterize a violation of rights protected by the American Declaration”.

The Commission held a hearing in 2007 concerning the case, however it did not revisit its decision not to examine the complaints made.

Forum:
Inter-American Commission of Human Rights

Date filed:
7 December 2005

Suggested citation:
IACHR, Sheila Watt-Cloutier et al. v. USA, petition rejected on 7 December 2005

Full text of the petition:
The text of the petition is available at climatecasechart.com. Click here to access it.

The video of the 2007 hearing is available here.

Further information:
For more on this petition, see:

Agnieszka Szpak, ‘Arctic Athabaskan Council’s petition to the Inter-American Commission on human rights and climate change—business as usual or a breakthrough?’ 162 Climatic Change (2020) 1575–1593.