Categories
2022 Austria Belgium Cyprus Denmark European Court of Human Rights France Germany Greece Luxembourg Private and family life Right to life Sweden Switzerland The Netherlands The United Kingdom

Five Young People v. France, Germany, the UK, and 9 other States

Summary:
On 21 June 2022, the Guardian reported that an application had been filed at the European Court of Human Rights concerning membership in the Energy Charter Treaty of 1994 (ECT), which entered into force in 1998. The case was brought by five young people, aged between 17 and 31, who allege that the 12 respondent States’ membership of the ECT stymies climate action, thereby violating their rights under Articles 2 (right to life) and 8 (right to respect for private and family life) ECHR.

Reuters reports that the 12 respondent States in this case are Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and Britain. In these States, corporate actors in the fossil fuel sector can bring legal action against the respective governments for losses of profits due to energy-related measures, thereby raising the costs of the green energy transition or making it illusory. The applicants argue that their Convention rights have been violated as a result.

In this regard, the IPCC pointed out in Chapter 14 of its 6th Assessment Report in 2022 that “bilateral and multilateral agreements, including the 1994 Energy Charter Treaty, include provisions for using a system of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) designed to protect the interests of investors in energy projects from national policies that could lead their assets to be stranded. Numerous scholars have pointed to ISDS being able to be used by fossil-fuel companies to block national legislation aimed at phasing out the use of their assets”. It also noted that “international investment agreements may lead to ‘regulatory chill’, which may lead to countries refraining from or delaying the adoption of mitigation policies, such as phasing out fossil fuels”.

Categories
2021 Business responsibility Domestic court Emissions reductions The Netherlands

Milieudefensie and others v. Royal Dutch Shell PLC

Summary:

This case was brought as a class action tort suit by a group of NGOs, as well as more than 17,000 individuals represented by Milieudefensie. The applicants claimed that Royal Dutch Shell had an obligation to reduce its carbon emissions relative to 2019 levels by 2030 across its entire energy portfolio. It represents a groundbreaking advance in the context of business responsibility for human rights impacts.

Date:

26 May 2021

Facts:

The court extensively discussed the science on climate change and its impacts, reductions targets, and the existing international instruments at length. It reiterated the reduction goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

Admissibility:

The court described the case as a public interest action. These are allowed under Dutch law, and the court noted that the common interest of preventing dangerous climate change by reducing CO2 emissions can be protected in a class action. It discussed at length whether the cases shared a ‘similar interest’, which is a requirement under the Dutch Civil Code. This requirement entails that the interests in question must be suitable for bundling into a class action so as to safeguard an the legal protection of the stakeholders.

In determining whether the individual applicants had locus standi, the court held that they had no separate interest beyond that represented by Milieudefensie before the court, and wrote off the individual claims.

Merits:

Relying on domestic law, human rights law, and soft law instruments, the domestic court interpreted the unwritten standard of care contained in Dutch domestic tort law.

Book 6, Section 162 of the Dutch Civil Code proscribes acts that conflict with what is generally accepted according to unwritten law. The court held that this standard of care also applies to Royal Dutch Shell. Applying this standard, the court held that Shell was obliged to reduce its CO2 emissions by net 45% at end 2030, relative to 2019. This reduction obligation relates to Shell’s entire energy portfolio and all of its aggregate emissions. This is an obligation of result for the activities of the Shell group itself, and a best-efforts obligation with respect to its business relations and end-users. Because Shell has the ability to influence these relations, it is expected to use its influence to bring about emissions reductions.

Remedies:

The judgment is subject to appeal, but the court rendered it provisionally enforceable, despite noting the possibility of irreversible negative consequences for Shell.

Separate opinions:

None

Measures taken as a result of the judgment:

Pending

Status of case:

Decided, appeal pending

Suggested case citation:

The Hague District Court, Milieudefensie and Others v. Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Others, case number C/09/571932, Judgment of 26 May 2021.

Links:

For the full judgment, see here.

For a summary in English, see here.

Categories
Austria Belgium Bulgaria Children and young people Croatia Cyprus Czechia Denmark Emissions reductions Estonia European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights Finland France Germany Greece Hungary Ireland Italy Latvia Lithuania Luxembourg Malta Non-discrimination Norway Paris Agreement Poland Portugal Private and family life Prohibition of torture Right to life Romania Russian Federation Slovakia Slovenia Spain Sweden Switzerland The Netherlands The United Kingdom Turkey Ukraine

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.

Relinquishment:

On 29 June 2022, the 7-judge Chamber to which the case had been allocated relinquished jurisdiction over it in favour of the Court’s 17-judge Grand Chamber. Relinquishment is possible where a case either (a) raises a serious question affecting the interpretation of the Convention or its Protocols, or (b) might lead to a result inconsistent with the Court’s case-law (Rule 72, paras 1-2 of the Rules of Court).

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. Relinquished to the Grand Chamber on 29 June 2022.

Suggested case citation:
ECtHR, Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and 32 Other Member States, no. 39371/20, Communicated Case, 30 November 2020, relinquished to the Grand Chamber on 29 June 2022.

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
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.