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Biodiversity Domestic court Just transition litigation Right to a healthy environment Right to assembly and association Right to freedom of expression Right to health Right to property South Korea

Korean Biomass Plaintiffs v. South Korea

Summary:

On September 28, 2020, a group of solar developers in Seoul, South Korea filed a complaint against the South Korean government, claiming that the government’s subsidies for biomass generation were unconstitutional. The plaintiffs include various stakeholders, such as solar cooperatives, cooperative members, residents near planned biomass facilities, ordinary citizens of South Korea, and even a Canadian citizen.

The central argument in their complaint revolves around the idea that the government’s support for biomass generation, classified as ‘renewable energy’ under South Korean legislation, qualifies for renewable energy certificates (RECs) and associated subsidies, which they argue infringes upon the environmental rights of the citizens. They assert that these subsidies lead to increased air pollution and climate-related damage.

The plaintiffs also argue that these policies negatively affect the property rights of renewable project owners. The subsidies allocated to biomass generation reduce the available support for solar and wind energy, which, in turn, impacts the expected profits for those involved in renewable energy projects.

The key issue at the heart of this case is whether South Korea’s subsidies for biomass generation violate the constitutional environmental rights of solar owners and residents living near these facilities.

Claim:

The claim made by the solar developers and other stakeholders in Seoul, South Korea, is that the government’s subsidies for biomass generation are unconstitutional and that these subsidies infringe upon the environmental rights of citizens. They argue that these subsidies contribute to increased air pollution and climate-related harm, affecting the well-being of the populace. Furthermore, they claim that these policies encroach upon the property rights of renewable project owners by reducing support for solar and wind energy, impacting the expected profits of those engaged in renewable energy projects. The core contention is that these subsidies for biomass generation violate the constitutional environmental rights of solar owners and nearby residents.

Decision:

The case is currently pending before the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Korea.

Links:

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

Suggested citation:

Korean Biomass Plaintiffs v. South Korea (28 September 2020, Constitutional Court).

Last updated:

20 October 2023.

Categories
Domestic court Emissions reductions/mitigation Human dignity Paris Agreement Right to a healthy environment Right to life South Korea

Climate Crisis Emergency Action v. South Korea

Summary:
It has been reported that the South Korean NGO “Climate Crisis Emergency Action” has filed a constitutional complaint concerning the country’s greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets.

In a draft of the application form available online (in Korean), the applicant organization noted the Korean National Assembly’s statement in support of the 1.5 degree emissions reductions target under the Paris Agreement, and the insufficiency of the domestic mitigation action to meet that target. It submits that the domestic target is “an arbitrary and irresponsible reduction target set in defiance of the standards agreed upon by the scientific community and the international community.” Noting the State’s “duty to protect the basic rights of its citizens” (in Article 10 of the South Korean Constitution), it submitted that fundamental rights are already being violated and will continue to be violated, and that higher legislative ambition is required.

Claims made (as per the version of the application made available here):
It appears that the claimants in this case invoked the right to pursue human dignity, value and happiness in Article 10 of the Constitution, along with the right to live a life worthy of humanity in Article 34, and the right to live in a healthy and pleasant environment in Article 35. They also invoked Article 36 of the Constitution concerning the protection of public health and disaster prevention. Citing scientific evidence concerning increasing natural disasters, food and water shortages, security crises and social disasters, they submitted that “the obligation to protect fundamental rights from climate change has been fulfilled only when measures corresponding to the minimum level agreed upon in the international community are taken.”

The applicants also explicitly link their case to the German Neubauer judgment concerning the impact of unambitious climate policy on the rights of future generations.

More information on this case will be added as it becomes available.

Relevant developments:

On 12 June 2023, it was announced that the National Human Rights Commission of Korea had decided to submit an opinion to South Korea’s Constitutional Court to oppose the country’s Carbon Neutrality Act (2021), which it considered to be unconstitutional and in violation of the fundamental rights of future generations because it sets out a greenhouse gas emissions reductions target that was too low. The Act sets out a 40% emissions reductions target by 2030 as compared to 2018 levels. This, the Commission found, did not respect the constitutional principle of equality, because it passed the burden of greenhouse gas emissions on to future generations.

Last updated:
23 June 2023.

Categories
Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions/mitigation Imminent risk Non-discrimination Paris Agreement Right to a healthy environment Right to life South Korea

Do-Hyun Kim et al. v. South Korea

Summary:

On 13 March 2020, nineteen teenagers from across South Korea initiated proceedings against their government (the National Assembly of Korea and the President of Korea), arguing that insufficient emissions reductions efforts were violating their constitutional rights. Their constitutional complaint is currently pending before the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Korea.

The applicants in this case are part of the Korean Youth Climate Action Group, which has led the Korean ‘School Strike for Climate’ movement. They argued that, by not taking action to prevent the threats posed by climate change, the government had violated the right of younger generations to life and the pursuit of happiness (Article 10 of the Constitution), which they argue also enshrines the right to resist against human extinction, along with the right to live in a healthy and pleasant environment (Article 35(1) of the Constitution). They also contested inter-generational inequalities under the constitutional prohibition of discrimination (Article 11 of the Constitution) and invoked the duty of the State to prevent environmental disasters (Article 34(e) of the Constitution). In doing so, the applicants invoked the fatal risk posed by climate change and the irrevocable damage to be suffered by younger generations. As a major emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, they argued, Korea has an obligation to protect its citizens from the effects of climate change by taking stronger emissions reductions action.

No action has been taken in this case to date. However, on 30 December 2022, the Korean National Human Rights Commission issued an official statement to the President of Korea regarding climate change and human rights. Citing IPCC reports, UN findings, other instances of climate litigation (such as Urgenda and Neubauer) and the existence of different vulnerabilities, it found that “[a]s the climate crisis has far-reaching impacts on multiple human rights, including the rights to life, food, health and housing, the government should regard protecting and promoting the rights of everyone in the midst of climate crisis as its fundamental obligation and reform related laws and systems to address the climate crisis from a human rights perspective.”

Status of the case:

Pending.

Relevant developments:

On 12 June 2023, it was announced that the National Human Rights Commission of Korea had decided to submit an opinion to South Korea’s Constitutional Court to oppose the country’s Carbon Neutrality Act (2021), which it considered to be unconstitutional and in violation of the fundamental rights of future generations because it sets out a greenhouse gas emissions reductions target that was too low. The Act sets out a 40% emissions reductions target by 2030 as compared to 2018 levels. This, the Commission found, did not respect the constitutional principle of equality, because it passed the burden of greenhouse gas emissions on to future generations.

More information on the case:

For a recent press report on the case, see here.

On the ational Human Rights Commission of Korea’s intervention, see this article in the Korea Herald.

The submissions in the case, including an unofficial English translation of the complaint prepared by the applicants’ counsel, are available via ClimateCaseChart.

Suggested citation:

Constitutional Court of Korea, Do-Hyun KIM and 18 others v. South Korea, pending case filed on 13 March 2020.

Last updated:
23 June 2023

Categories
Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions/mitigation Non-discrimination Paris Agreement Right to a healthy environment Right to life Right to property South Korea

Baby Climate Litigation v. South Korea

Summary:
It has been reported that, in South Korea, a climate lawsuit was filed in June 2022 by sixty-two babies and children under the age of 11, including a 20-week-old fetus nicknamed “Woodpecker”. Documentation on this case is not yet available, but press reports indicate that the claimants submit that the State is violating the rights of future generations by failing to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. This is the fourth climate case challenging the constitutionality of the Korean climate policy, as contained in the country’s 2021 Carbon Neutrality Act (2021). In this case, the claimants argue that the NDC set out in this Act (of A 40% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 as compared with 2018 levels) violates their constitutional rights to life, equality, property, and to live in a healthy and pleasant environment.

According to the Guardian, this is the first climate case in which a foetus has ever been listed as a claimant.

Further information on this case will be added as it becomes available.

Relevant developments:
On 12 June 2023, it was announced that the National Human Rights Commission of Korea had decided to submit an opinion to South Korea’s Constitutional Court to oppose the country’s Carbon Neutrality Act (2021), which it considered to be unconstitutional and in violation of the fundamental rights of future generations because it sets out a greenhouse gas emissions reductions target that was too low. The Act sets out a 40% emissions reductions target by 2030 as compared to 2018 levels. This, the Commission found, did not respect the constitutional principle of equality, because it passed the burden of greenhouse gas emissions on to future generations.

See also:
Do-Hyun Kim et al. v. South Korea.

Last updated:
23 June 2023.