Categories
2021 Children and young people Domestic court Right to a healthy environment Right to life Right to property Separation of powers United States of America

Reynolds and Others v. Florida

Summary:
In this case, eight young people asserted that the “deliberate indifference” of the US state of Florida, its Governor Ron DeSantis, and other state agencies had violated their “fundamental rights of life, liberty and property, and the pursuit of happiness, which includes a stable climate system”. On 9 June 2020, the Circuit Court for Leon County dismissed their case, finding that it could not grant the relief requested in light of the separation of powers clause contained in the state’s constitution. The claims in question were considered nonjusticiable because they “are inherently political questions that must be resolved by the political branches of government.”. On appeal, on 18 May 2021, the First District Court of Appeal rejected the applicants’ appeal, affirming the lower court’s finding that the lawsuit raised nonjusticiable political questions.

Further information:
Both the Circuit Court’s judgment and the Court of Appeals’ affirmation of the first-instance judgment can be found at www.climatecasechart.com.

Categories
2021 Canada Children and young people Class action Domestic court Non-discrimination Right to a healthy environment Right to life

ENVironnement JEUnesse v. Canada

Summary:
In 2018, the environmental NGO ENvironnement JEUnesse applied for leave to bring a class action case against the Canadian government on behalf of citizens of Québec aged 35 and under. The NGO sought a declaration from that the Canadian government had violated its obligation to protect these citizens’ fundamental rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Québec Charter of Rights and Freedoms by setting insufficent greenhouse gas reduction targets and by failing to create an adequate plan to reach these targets. Specifically, they invoked their rights to life, to a healthy environment, and to equality. On 11 July 2019, the Superior Court of Quebec dismissed the motion to authorize the institution of a class action, finding that the proposed class, with its 35-year age limit, had been created arbitrarily. An appeal by ENVironnement JEUnesse was denied on 13 December 2021.

Remedies sought:
As well as a declaratory judgment, the NGO sought punitive damages and an order to cease interference with the plaintiffs’ rights.

Judgment:
In their judgment of 13 December 2021, the three judges of the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and denied the certification of the proposed class. They referred to the role of the legislature in making the complex social and economic choices required here. They also considered that the remedies sought by the applicants were not specific enough to be implemented by a court. Lastly, the judges upeld the previous instance’s finding concerning the arbitary constitution of the class, with its 35-year age limit.

Further procedural steps:
The applicants announced that they would launch an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Further reading:
The judgment of the Court of Appeal (in French) can be found below.

The declaration of appeal can be found here.

Categories
2021 Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Fossil fuel extraction Imminent risk Indigenous peoples' rights Non-discrimination Right to life Right to property Sea-level rise United States of America

Aji P. and Others v. the State of Washington

Summary:
This case was brought by 13 young people aged between 8 and 18 who sued the US State of Washington, its Governor, and various other state agencies, arguing that the state had “injured and continue[d] to injure them by creating, operating, and maintaining a fossil fuel-based energy and transportation system that [the State] knew would result in greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions, dangerous climate change, and resulting widespread harm.” In doing so, they invoked their “fundamental and inalienable constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, equal protection, and a healthful and pleasant environment, which includes a stable climate system that sustains human life and liberty.” They also invoked the impacts on indigenous peoples’ rights. The plaintiffs requested the judiciary to “[o]rder [the state] to develop and submit to the Court . . . an enforceable state climate recovery plan”.

A number of amici filed briefs in the case. For example, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Quinault Indian Nation, and Suquamish Tribe argued that local tribes were already seeing impacts on their traditional lands and abutting marine waters. The Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW-US) noted the well-documented impacts of climate change on human and constitutional rights. The League of Women Voters of Washington argued that access to judicial action was particularly important for minors who did not enjoy access to the right to vote. And a group of environmental NGOs submitted that “the right to a healthful and pleasant environment underlies our continued ability to claim our explicitly-guaranteed rights to life and liberty.”

On 8 February 2021, the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington held that it “firmly believe[d] that the right to a stable environment should be
fundamental.” It also recognized “the extreme harm that greenhouse gas emissions inflict on the environment and its future stability.” However, it held that “it would be a violation of the separation of powers doctrine for the court to resolve the Youths’ claims.” It accordingly dismissed the claim.

On 6 October 2021, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington denied the petition for review in this case. González, C.J. (dissenting) noted that the plaintiffs “asked this court to recognize a fundamental right to a healthful and pleasant environment that may be inconsistent with our State’s maintenance of a fossil-fuel-based energy and transportation system that it knows will result in greenhouse gas emissions. These greenhouse gases hasten a rise in the earth’s temperature. This temperature change
foreshadows the potential collapse of our environment. In its place is an unstable climate system, conceivably unable to sustain human life and continued enjoyment of ordered liberty under law. Today, we have an opportunity to consider whether these are the sorts of harms that are remediable under Washington’s law and constitution. We should have granted review to decide that question”.

Categories
2021 Brazil Deforestation Domestic court Emissions reductions Paris Agreement Right to a healthy environment

Laboratório do Observatório do Clima v. Minister of Environment and Brazil

Facts of the case:

This is a class action suit brought before the 7th Federal Environmental and Agrarian Court of the Judiciary Section of Amazonas, by a network of 71 civil society organizations against the Environmental Ministry and the Brazilian Government. The petitioners allege that the respondents are committing a systematic violation of the right to an ecologically balanced environment as well as Brazil’s obligation under the Paris Agreement by- failing to update and implement Brazil’s ‘National Policy on Climate Change’ pursuant to the federal climate legislation, especially in the face of the updates in IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report; downgrading the ambition in Brazil’s ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ communication under the Paris Agreement; failing to address the problem of deforestation in the Amazon; disproportionately favouring and intensifying the use of fossil fuel over renewable sources in its energy sector; and reducing the powers and capabilities of institutions for environmental protection that make up the national system for environmental protection and climate control, and thereby paralysing the accountability processes.

The reliefs sought by the petitioners include a declaration of non-compliance with constitutional law, and a mandatory injunction. As for the latter, the respondents ask for the preparation of an updated National Policy on Climate Change which takes into consideration all sectors of the economy, is in strict compliance with the federal climate legislation and principles recognised in the Paris Agreement, informed by the IPCC’s latest Assessment Report and the Paris Agreement’s 1.5ºC temperature target.   

Date of institution of proceedings:

26 October 2021

Admissibility:

TBD

Merits:

TBD:

Reliefs Awarded:

TBD

Status of the case:

Pending.

Further information:

On 11 November 2021, Judge Mara Elisa Andrade scheduled a conciliatory hearing between the parties to the case, which was subsequently cancelled on 25 November 2021 owing to the defendants’ lack of interest in settling the dispute through conciliation.

Case documents:

Petition (in Portuguese)

Categories
2021 Domestic court Emissions reductions European Convention on Human Rights France Paris Agreement Private and family life Right to life

Notre Affaire à Tous and Others v. France (‘L’affaire du siècle’)

Summary:
The L’affaire du siècle (French for “affair of the century”) is a French climate justice campaign initiated by four organisations (Fondation pour la nature et l’homme, Greenpeace France, Notre affaire à tous and Oxfam France) on 17 December 2018 to bring the French State to justice for its inaction in the fight against global warming. After the French State rejected the campaigners’ demand, a legal action against the State was filed with the Paris Administrative Court on 14 March 2019.

On 3 February 2021, in a decision that the associations described as ‘a historic victory for the climate’, this court confirmed the existence of a causal link between environmental damage and the failure of the State to adequately combat climate change. It ordered the State to submit written observations within a two-month time frame.

On 14 October 2021, in its final decision, the court instructed the French State to take immediate and concrete measures to combat climate change and to repair the damage caused by its inaction by 31 December 2022.

Rights invoked:
Among other things, the applicant organisations relied on Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the French Charter of the Environment, as well as the “right to a preserved climate system”. The plaintiffs argued that this right stems from national and international law such as the Stockholm Declaration, the World Charter for Nature, the Rio Declaration, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement, the Climate action and renewable energy package for 2020.

Findings on the merits:
The court found that the State had not respected its greenhouse gas reductions commitments and had therefore committed a “fault”. It accordingly held that, “[i]n line with the commitments that it had made within the framework of the first carbon budget, which it failed to respect, the State must be regarded as responsible […] for part of the ecological damage observed”.

The Administrative Court of Paris thereby confirmed on 3 February 2021 that there was a causal link between the environmental damage and the inaction of the French government in combating climate change. In other words, it recognized that the government’s inaction had caused ecological damage, and that the State should be held responsible for at least part of this damage. The court ordered the government to show, within two-months, the measures it intended to take against climate change. The court reserved the rest of its judgment until after it had received these submissions.

In its final decision on 14 October 2021, the Administrative Court of Paris instructed the Prime Minister and the relevant ministers to take all possible measures to combat climate change and to repair the ecological damage and prevent it from getting worse. The Court specified the damage in the amount of the uncompensated share of greenhouse gas emissions under the initial carbon budget, i.e. 15 million tons of CO2 equivalents. It ordered that the recuperation of this damage must be effective no later than 31 December 2022. However, the Court did not consider it appropriate to impose a penalty on its order.

The Court noted that it is not its role to assess whether the totality of the measures taken is sufficient or not. Therefore, the specific measures to implement this recuperation may take various forms, and are left to the discretion of the French government. In its findings, the Court referred to the Commune de Grande-Synthe decision of the Conseil d’État (“Council of State”) of 1 July 2021. This decision states that the current measures are not sufficient to achieve the necessary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Date of filing:
14 March 2019

Date of decision:
14 October 2021

Links:
For the full text of the final decision of 14 October 2021 (in French), see here.

For the full text of the first decision of 3 February 2021 (in French), see here.

For an unofficial translation of the first decision of 3 February 2021 (in English), see here.  

For an unofficial translation of the State’s reply (in English), see here.

For the plaintiff’s reply to the State’s arguments (in French), see here.

The applicant organisations are active on Twitter at @laffairedusiecl, and they have a website that can be found at https://laffairedusiecle.net/.

Suggested citation:
Paris Administrative Court, Notre Affaire à Tous and Others v. France (‘L’affaire du siècle’), Decision of 3 February 2021, Nos. 1904967, 1904968, 1904972, and 1904976/4.

Paris Administrative Court, Notre Affaire à Tous and Others v. France (‘L’affaire du siècle’), Decision of 14 October 2021, Nos. 1904967, 1904968, 1904972, and 1904976/4.

Further reading:
Christel Cournil, Antoine Le Dylio, Paul Mougeolle, ‘L’affaire du Siècle : French Climate Litigation between Continuity and Legal Innovations’, 14(1) Carbon & Climate Law Review (2020), 223-233. Available here.

Categories
2021 Domestic court Indigenous peoples' rights Norway Right to culture

Statnett SF et al. v. Sør-Fosen sijte et al.

Summary:
In this judgment of 11 October 2021, the Supreme Court of Norway found that the construction of two wind power plants on the Fosen peninsula interfered with the rights of reindeer herders to enjoy their own culture under Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Supreme Court unanimously found that there had been an interference with this right, and accordingly invalidated the wind power licence and the expropriation decision.

Facts of the case:
In 2010, two wind power plants (the Roan and Storheia plants) received a license from the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate. These plants are located within the Fosen grazing district, where the Sør-Fosen sijte and Nord-Fosen siida keep their reindeer. In 2013, the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy rejected their claim that the construction of the wind power plants interfered with their right to cultural enjoyment. Construction on the plants commenced while the issue was pending before the courts, and the two plants – which are part of the largest onshore wind power project in Europe — were ready to become operational in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Merits:
The main issue at stake before the Supreme Court was whether the development interfered with the reindeer herders’ rights under Article 27 ICCPR. That provision enshrines the right of persons belonging to an ethnic, religious or linguistic minority to enjoy their own culture, in community with the other members of their group. It was undisputed before the Supreme Court that reindeer husbandry is a protected cultural practice. The Supreme Court relied on the Court of Appeal’s finding that the winter pastures near Storheia and Roan had in practice been lost to reindeer husbandry, and that the wind power plants in question are a threat to the reindeer industry’s existence on Fosen peninsula absent remedial measures.    

The Supreme Court, relying on the work of the UN Human Rights Committee, held that the total effect of the development in question determines whether a violation of the ICCPR right has taken place. Although there is no room for a proportionality assessment, a balance must be struck if the rights under Article 27 ICCPR conflict with other fundamental rights. The Supreme Court established that the right to a healthy environment might constitute such a conflicting right.

The Supreme Court found that the herders’ cultural rights would face significant adverse effects and be violated if satisfactory remedial measures were not implemented. The Supreme Court agreed that a “green shift” and increased renewable energy production are important, but found that there were alternatives that were less intrusive for the reindeer herders less, so that there was no collision between environmental interests and the reindeers’ right to cultural enjoyment in this case.   

Remedial awards:
In its ruling, the Court of Appeal had previously stipulated sizeable compensation for the winter feeding of fenced-in reindeer, and on this basis it had found no violation of the right to cultural enjoyment. In the Supreme Court’s view, such a solution was too uncertain to be a determining factor in whether Article 27 ICCPR had been violated. In any event, the courts could not rely on such a measure as a part of the reindeer herders’ duty to adapt.  

Separate opinions:
N/A

Implementation:
N/A

Date of judgment:
11 October 2021

Links:
A summary of the judgment (in English) is available here.

The full text of the judgment (in Norwegian, English translation forthcoming) is available here.

Suggested citation:
Supreme Court of Norway, Statnett SF et al. v. Sør-Fosen sijte, HR-2021-1975-S, Judgment of 11 October 2021.

Categories
2021 Deciding Body Domestic court European Convention on Human Rights Keywords Paris Agreement Right to assembly and association Right to freedom of expression Rights at stake State concerned Switzerland Year

Credit Suisse Climate Activists Trial (Geneva)

Summary:
On 13 October 2018, during a climate march in Geneva, a young climate activist from the collective “BreakFree Suisse” spread his hands smeared with red paint all over the facade of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse, leaving red handprints to denounce investments in fossil fuels. According to the climate activist, these red handprints symbolized the blood of the various victims of climate change.

On 20 February 2020, the activist was found guilty by the Tribunal de police (“Police Court”) for property damage.

On 14 October 2020, the Cour de Justice (“Court of Justice”) acquitted the climate activist and argued that the young man had acted in a putative state of necessity due to climate change.

A year later, on 28 September 2021, the Swiss Bundesgericht (“Federal Supreme Court”) overturned this decision and referred the case back to the Cour de Justice. The Bundesgericht argued that climate change and the resulting consequences do not represent an imminent danger to individual legal interests.

Consequently, on 31 March 2022, the Cour de Justice revised its first decision and ordered the climate activist to pay a symbolic fine of 100 Swiss francs as well as compensation for material damage.

In a similar case in Lausanne, climate activists from the same collective were on trial after occupying the entrance halls of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse.  

Rights invoked:
The activist invoked his rights to freedom of expression (Article 10 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)) and assembly and association (Article 11 ECHR).

The Swiss Bundesgericht held that Article 11 ECHR only protects the right to freedom of “peaceful assembly”. With his behavior, the young man committed an act of vandalism, which is incompatible with freedom of expression. Accordingly, the Court found that the activist could not rely on Articles 10 and 11 ECHR.  

Further proceedings:
It was reported that applications concerning both of these cases have been filed at the European Court of Human Rights.

Date:
28 September 2021

Suggested citation:
Swiss Bundesgericht, N.B. v. Credit Suisse, 6B_1310/2020, 6B_1298/2020, Judgment of 28 September 2021.

Links:
For the Federal Supreme Court’s judgment, see here.

For the Cour de justice’s second judgment, see here.

For the Cour de Justice’s first judgment, see here.

For the Tribunal de police’s judgment, see here.

Categories
2021 Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Human dignity Right to a healthy environment Right to health United States of America

Held and Others v. Montana

Summary:
In Held and Others, sixteen young plaintiffs — aged between two and eighteen — brought a case against the U.S. state of Montana alleging violations of the state constitution due to climate change. The young plaintiffs in this case, which is to some extent comparable to the Juliana litigation, alleged that they are already experiencing ‘a host of adverse consequences’ from anthropogenic climate change in Montana, including increased temperatures, changing weather patterns, more acute droughts and extreme weather events, increasing wildfires and glacial melt. They argued that this was causing health risks, especially for children, and that the defendants, among them the state of Montana, its Governor, and various state agencies, had “act[ed] affirmatively to exacerbate the climate crisis” despite their awareness of the risk of harm to the applicants. The plaintiffs sought a declaration that their right to a clean and healthy environment includes a right a stable climate, and that existing approaches to greenhouse gas emissions in Montana violate constitutional provisions, including the right to a clean and healthy environment; the right to seek safety, health, and happiness; and the right to individual dignity and to equal protection. They also sought injunctive relief, namely an order to account for the state’s Montana’s greenhouse gas emissions and to develop and implement an emissions reductions plan.

Decision on the admissibility:
On 4 August 2021, a the Montana First Judicial District Court for Lewis and Clark County declared the case admissible in part. The prayer for injunctive relief in terms of emissions accounting, a remedial plan or policy, the appointment of expert to assist the court, and retain jurisdiction until such orders are complied with were rejected. However, the court declared the constitutional rights claims admissible, including the claim about the plaintiffs’ ‘fundamental constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment’, which — as the plaintiffs submit — ‘includes a stable climate system that sustains human lives and liberties’.

Date filed:
13 March 2020

Date of admissibility decision:
4 August 2021

More information:
The original complaint is available from the Western Environmental Law Center.
The admissibility decision is available over on climatecasechart.com.

Suggested citation:
Montana First District Court for Lewis and Clark county, Held and others v. State of Montana and others, order on motion to dismiss, 4 August 2021, Cause No. CDV-2020-307.

Categories
2021 Domestic court Nepal Right to a healthy environment

Interim Order against Nepali Fiscal Policy

Summary:
On 18 June 2021 the Supreme Court of Nepal issued an interim order requiring the government not to implement its plan to extract and export natural resources, namely sand, pebbles, and stones, in order to reduce its trade deficit. In doing so, it cited the fundamental right to a healthy environment, as well as the constitutional protection of resources for the enjoyment of future generations.

The Constitutional bench referred to Article 30 of the Constitution, which enshrines the right to a clean and healthy environment. It also referred to Article 51(g) of the Constitution, which concerns the protection, promotion and use of natural resources. It referred to the need to ensure inter-generational coordination and environmental balance.

Further information:

The order was made by a Constitutional bench made up of Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana and Justices Deepak Kumar Karki, Mira Khadka, Hari Krishna Karki and Bishwambhar Prasad Shrestha on 18 June 2021. Orders of the Supreme Court are available here.

Suggested case citation:
The Supreme Court of Nepal, Interim Order against Nepali Fiscal Policy, issued on 18 June 2021

To read more about the case in English, click here.

Categories
2021 Belgium Domestic court Emissions reductions European Convention on Human Rights Private and family life Right to life

Belgian ‘Klimaatzaak’

Summary:

On 17 June 2021, a Brussels court of first instance issued its judgment in the Urgenda-inspired Belgian “Klimaatzaak” (Dutch for “climate case”).

The applicants in this case alleged, among other things, that the four Belgian governments (i.e. the three regional governments and the federal state) had violated human rights law, and were obligated to reduce Belgium’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.

The case was delayed for almost three years because of proceedings contesting the language of the case, which was adjudicated in French.

On 17 June 2021, a court of first instance found that Belgian climate policy was negligent and violated the duty of care under human rights law. At stake were, among other things, violations of Articles 2 and 8 ECHR, in claims inspired by the Dutch Urgenda case. However, the court of first instance also held that, in light of the principle of separation of powers, it could not set greenhouse gas reduction targets for the Belgian governments.

Key points of the first-instance judgment:

The Brussels court of first instance not only declared the complaint of the applicant association, VZW Klimaatzaak, admissible, but also that of the 58,000 co-plaintiffs. Belgian law does not allow for an actio popularis, but the first-instance court recognized that all of the applicants faced a risk of material, physical or moral damage. In doing so, it referred to the risks to human and animal health and to the territorial integrity of the Belgian state, and especially of the Flemish region, which was particularly at risk of harms caused by sea level rises. The best available science, as reflected in existing diplomatic consensus, did not leave room for doubt about the existence of a real risk from dangerous climate change. This meant a serious risk that current and future generations would see their daily lives profoundly impacted (“profondément perturbées”). The fact that other Belgian citizens could bring a similar claim did not change this.

The judgment also states that the federal state and the three regions are jointly and individually responsible for the risk of harm at stake, despite the complex structure of the Belgian state.

Lastly, the judgment states that the four governments’ inadequate climate policy violates articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (which enshrine the right to life and the right to respect for private and family life, respectively).

However, the court did not order the injunction claimed by the applicants for concrete reduction targets. The applicants had requested an injunction to the effect that the Belgian state should reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 42% by 2025 and by 55% by 2030.

The applicants have indicated that they will appeal the judgment and take a case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, making this the potential fifth climate application to the ECtHR. The applicants have indicated that the reason for the latter step is that delays in the domestic judicial system mean that the case might only be concluded in 9.5 years. Citing the urgency of emissions reductions, they have indicated that they will claim that there is no effective remedy available on the domestic level.

Suggested citation:
Francophone first instance court of Brussels, 4th chamber, Klimaatzaak ASBL v. Belgium, no. 2015/4585/A, Judgment of 17 June 2021, available at https://prismic-io.s3.amazonaws.com/affaireclimat/18f9910f-cd55-4c3b-bc9b-9e0e393681a8_167-4-2021.pdf

Full text:

For background information on the case, see here.

For a summary (in Dutch) by Klimaatzaak, see here.

For the full judgment (in French), see here.

Further reading:

For more on this case, see the blog post by Matthias Petel and Antoine De Spiegeleir in the Sabin Center’s Climate Law Blog, available here.