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

Thalita Silva e Silva and Others v. Minister of Environment and Others

Facts of the case:

This case was brought before the 14th Federal Civil Court of Sao Paulo by six youths as a popular action against the Brazilian Government, challenging Brazil’s updated ‘nationally determined contributions’ communication (NDC) that it submitted on 08 December 2020 pursuant to its obligation under Article 4.2 of the Paris Agreement. The petitioners argue that the NDC is regressive in comparison to its previous NDC, as it alters the baseline relative to which its emissions reductions targets for the years 2025 and 2030 were to be calculated. Both the initial and the updated NDC provided for a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 37% by 2025, and 45% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, but the estimated emissions for the base year 2005 was increased from 2.1 to 2.8 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent pursuant to an update in Brazil’s national GHG inventory report.

The petitioners contended that this regression in the updated NDC constituted a violation of Article 225 of the Constitution of Brazil, which provides for the right to an ecologically balanced environment. They further argued that there was a new GHG inventory report which estimated the 2005 emissions levels to amount to 2.4 billion tonnes rather than 2.8 billion tonnes as per the previous inventory report, and since this new report was published before the updated NDC was communicated, the updated NDC stands to be quashed in any case. The respondents contested the courts’ jurisdiction on the ground that the claim concerned an act of the Brazilian government at the international level. They also contended that the NDC in question met the criteria of progression and highest possible ambition.  

Date of decision:

28 May 2021

Admissibility:

The Federal Civil Court of Sao Paulo found that it was competent to adjudicate the case as per Article 109, Item III of the Constitution of Brazil which provides federal courts the competence to hear cases based on a treaty between the Union and other States or international bodies.

Merits:

The Federal Civil Court of Sao Paulo summarily dismissed the plaintiffs’ request for injunction on the count that the updated NDC maintains the emissions reduction targets specified in the previous NDC, and that the change in the estimated emissions during the base year in different national inventory reports was normal and expected in light of improvements in scientific understanding and techniques. It also highlighted that the Paris Agreement requires parties to periodically update their national inventories and inferred from this requirement that the targets in NDCs are to be understood in relation to the inventory available at the time of communicating them. The Court also considered the updated NDC to be ambitious as it contained a carbon neutrality commitment.

Status of the case:

The petitioners have appealed against the decision of the Federal Civil Court.

Suggested case citation:

Federal Civil Court of Sao Paulo, Thalita Silva e Silva & Ors. v. Minister of Environment & Ors., Ação Popular nº 5008035-37.2021.4.03.6100, decision of 28 May 2021.

Case documents:

Petition (in Portuguese)

Decision of the Federal Civil Court of Sao Paulo (in Portuguese)

Categories
2021 Deciding Body Domestic court European Convention on Human Rights Imminent risk 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 (Lausanne)

Summary:
On 22 November 2018, a group of 20 to 30 climate activists from the collective “BreakFree Suisse”, among them the 12 complainants, occupied the entry halls of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse in Lausanne to demonstrate against the bank’s investment in fossil fuels. The protest aimed to draw attention to this issue by condemning the participation of the Swiss tennis player Roger Federer in the advertising campaign of this bank. To do so, the activists were dressed in sports clothes and staged a tennis match. While some activists complied with the police request to leave the premises, others had to be dragged out by the police.

The activists argued that they had been in a “justifiable state of emergency” (rechtfertigender Notstand) due to climate change and that their protest was therefore lawful.

On 13 January 2020, the Tribunal de police de l’arrondissement de Lausanne (“Police Court of the district of Lausanne”) ruled in favor of the protesters. The judge found that climate change posed an imminent threat and that the protest was therefore a necessary and proportionate means to achieve the activists’ intended goal.

On 22 September 2020, this decision was overruled by the Tribunal Cantonal du Vaud (“Vaud Cantonal Tribunal”). The Court argued that the activists could have protested the bank by using other means, such as political or legal instruments. It further found that climate change is an imminent threat and that measures must be taken to address it. However, the Tribunal Cantonal du Vaud doubted that the protest could have led to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, it also noted that the Swiss government is aware of the issue and has already taken necessary measures, such as ratifying the Paris Agreement. Finally, the Court held that it is not yet too late to take the necessary protective measures to combat climate change.

On 26 May 2021, the Swiss Bundesgericht (“Swiss Federal Supreme Court”) mainly upheld the Tribunal Cantonal du Vaud’s decision. It argued further that climate change may be considered an imminent threat and that the activists did not intend to protect a specific legal interest, but rather collective interests, namely the environment, health, or the well-being of the population, and thus, the protest was not lawful.

In a similar case in Geneva, a climate activist from the same collective was on trial after putting red handprints all over the front of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse.

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

The Swiss Bundesgericht argued that the complainants are not entitled to invoke Articles 10 and 11 ECHR in this context because they had no right to enter private property to take their actions. The freedom of assembly does not include the right to gather on private property without the owner’s consent. Consequently, the claimants could not rely on Articles 10 and 11 ECHR.

Date of decision:
26 May 2021

Suggested case citation:
Swiss Bundesgericht, 12 climate protesters v. ministère public central du canton de Vaud, 6B_1295/2020, Judgment of 26 May 2021.


Links:
For the judgment of the Swiss Bundesgericht (in French), see here.

For the judgment of the Tribunal Cantonal du Vaud (in French), see here.

For the judgment of the Tribunal de police de l’arrondissement de Lausanne (in French), see here.  

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
2021 Brazil Deforestation Domestic court Individual responsibility Right to a healthy environment

Ministério Público Federal v. de Rezende

Summary:
This case concerns the responsibility of an individual (a farmer in the Amazonia region of Brazil) for deforestation and thus for climate change, including human rights impacts.

The Ministério Público Federal (MPF) had brought a tort case against the farmer, Dauro Parreiras de Rezende, for causing the deforestation of 2,488.56 hectares of Amazon rainforest between 2011 and 2018. This had allegedly violated the right to a healthy environment as enshrined in the Brazilian Constitution. On 16 April 2021, a Federal Environmental and Agrarian Court granted an injunction ordering the removal of cattle from the land in question.

Climate Case Chart reports that MPF is seeking up to R$ 85.4 million (ca. $17 million USD) in damages for the climate damage itself, i.e., the value of the emissions related to the deforestation in question, human rights violations due to collective pain and suffering, other environmental damages, and compensation for the farmer’s illegal profits due to the deforestation.

More information:

For more detail and the text (in Portuguese) of the petition and judgment, visit Climate Case Chart.

For a newspaper report on the case (in Portuguese), see here.

Suggested case citation:
Federal Environmental and Agrarian Court, Ministério Público Federal v. de Rezende, petition filed on 7 April 2021

Federal Environmental and Agrarian Court, Ministério Público Federal v. de Rezende, preliminary decision issued on 16 April 2021

Categories
2021 Access to a remedy Children and young people European Court of Justice Non-discrimination Private and family life Right to life Victim status

Armando Carvalho and Others v. Parliament 

Summary:
This case, also known as ‘The People’s Climate Case’, was brought by families from different Member States of the European Union. The families, who are active in the agricultural or tourism sectors, brought the case to the General Court of the European Union together with a Swedish association representing young indigenous people. They claimed that the measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that had been laid down by a legislative package from 2018 were not far-reaching enough. They demanded stricter measures: the aim should be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 – 60% by 2030, when compared to 1990 levels. In doing so, the applicants argued that an insufficient reduction in greenhouse gas emissions infringed their fundamental rights as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, namely the right to life (Article 2), the right to the integrity of the person (Article 3), the rights of the child (Article 24), the right to engage in work and to pursue a freely chosen or accepted occupation (Article 15), the freedom to conduct a business (Article 16), the right to property (Article 17) and the right to equal treatment (Articles 20 and 21).

The General Court declared the action inadmissible because the claimants had no locus standi. The claimants appealed to the Court of Justice. They claimed that the Court should set aside the order under appeal, declare the actions at first instance admissible, and refer the case back to the General Court. The Court of Justice dismissed the appeal. The Court held that the claim that an act of the EU infringes fundamental rights is not sufficient to establish admissibility of an action brought by an individual.

Deciding body:
European Court of Justice (European Union)

Date of resolution:
25 March 2021

Admissibility:
The General Court declared the action inadmissible because the claimants did not satisfy any of the locus standi criteria under its strict ‘Plaumann’ test. The Court held that the claimants were not individually concerned, because they were not the addressees of the acts at issue. The Court of Justice dismissed the appeal, and emphasized that the mere fact of alleging that a legal act of the Union infringes fundamental rights does not mean that an individual’s action is admissible; otherwise the meaning of the admissibility requirements laid down in the TFEU would be meaningless. According to the case-law of the Court of Justice, the European Union courts cannot, without exceeding their powers, deviate from the express provisions of the TFEU, this also applies to the fundamental right to effective judicial protection enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

Full text
The full text of the decision is available here.

Further reading:
On the 2019 decision on the case by the General Court, see Gerd Winter, ‘Armando Carvalho and Others v. EU: Invoking Human Rights and the Paris Agreement for Better Climate Protection Legislation’ 9(1) Transnational Environmental Law (2020), 137-164, available here.

Suggested case citation:
ECJ, Armando Carvalho and Others v. The European Parliament and the Council, no. C-565/19 P, Judgment of 25 March 2021.


Categories
2021 Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Germany Paris Agreement

Bundesverfassungsgericht, Order of 24 March 2021 (Neubauer v. Germany)

Summary:
On 21 April 2019, the German Federal Constitutional Court (‘Bundesverfassungsgericht’) issued a historic judgment quashing parts of the German Climate Protection Act. The judgment considered that the existing measures for climate protection impermissibly deferred the emissions reductions necessary for meeting Paris Agreement goals into the future, i.e. post-2031, thereby shifting the responsibility for reductions onto future generations, who would have to accept dramatic limitations on their freedoms as a result.

Admissibility:

Merits:
In its judgment, First Senate of the German Federal Constitutional Court held that the parts of the German Federal Climate Change Act of 12 December 2019 (Bundes-Klimaschutzgesetz – KSG) governing national climate targets and the emissions allowed annually until 2030 were incompatible with fundamental rights. This finding was based on the absence of specified emission reductions after 2030. The Court emphasized the principle of inter-generational justice stemming from Art. 20a of the German Basic Law.

The KSG creates an obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 relative to 1990 levels. The Bundesverfassungsgericht held that the legislator had not violated its constitutional duty to protect the complainants from the risks of climate change or to take climate action (as required by Article 20a of the German Basic Law) by passing the KSG into law. However, it found that the provisions in questions irreversibly offloaded emission reduction burdens into the future, namely the time period after post-2030. The Bundesverfassungsgericht drew on the constitutional climate goal arising from Article 20a of the German Basic Law, which requires — in line with the targets set out in the Paris Agreement — that increases in the global average temperature should be limited to well below 2°C, and preferably to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The Court found that the statutory provisions in the KSG on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 2031 onwards were insufficient, meaning that a great burden would be placed on the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms by future generations. This violated the constitutional rights of the applicants, in the sense of their fundamental freedoms (including, among others, Art. 2(1) GG) in the sense of an advance interference-like effect (eingriffsähnliche Vorwirkung).

In all other respects, the constitutional complaints were rejected. This includes the rejection of complaints about current-day interferences with the rights to life and physical integrity, and complaints by applicants from Bangladesh and Nepal.

Remedies:
The court ordered the legislator to enact provisions specifying the adjustment of reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions for periods after 2030 in greater detail by 31 December 2022 that.

Separate opinions:
None

Implementation measures taken:
TBD

Date:
24 March 2021

Type of Forum:
Domestic

Status of case:
Final

Suggested case citation:
German Bundesverfassungsgericht, Judgment of the First Senate of 24 March 2021 – 1 BvR 2656/18 -, N. 1-270, http://www.bverfg.de/e/rs20210324_1bvr265618.html.

Links:
Judgment in German

Summary in English

Categories
2021 Business responsibility Domestic court Extraterritorial obligations Standing/admissibility The United Kingdom

Okpabi and Others v. Royal Dutch Shell and Others

Summary:
In October and December 2015, the Ogale and Bille Nigerian communities filed parallel complaints against the UK company Royal Dutch Shell plc (Shell) and its Nigerian subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in the UK High Court. The claimants sought a remedy for the extensive oil pollution caused by Shell arguing that it had affected their livelihoods and the environment. They claimed that Shell had failed to prevent oil spills and did not conduct proper clean-up. The plaintiffs argued that Shell had not seriously prevented contamination of agricultural land and waterways. They argued that Shell, as the parent company, owed them duty of care because it exercised significant control over the material aspects of SPDC’s operations and was responsible for them.

In January 2017, the High Court held that the claimants could not sue Shell in English Courts. The Court held that there was not sufficient evidence that Shell exercised a high degree of oversight, control or direction over SPDC. It therefore had no legal responsibility as a parent company for pollution by its Nigerian subsidiary. The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s decision in February 2018. The Court held that the parent company did not hold a duty of care towards the affected communities. In May 2020 the plaintiffs filed an appeal with the UK Supreme Court, arguing that the parent company Shell owed them a common law duty of care in respect to the extensive environmental harmed caused by their business operations in Nigeria. On 12 February 2021, the Supreme Court allowed the appeal and ruled that the case could proceed in the UK Courts. The decision determined that there is an arguable case that Shell is legally responsible for the pollution caused by the activities of its subsidiary to the Ogale and Bille communities.

Date of decision:
12 February 2021

Admissibility:
The UK Supreme Court ruled that UK courts have jurisdiction over the case, due to the fact that the parent company may owe the plaintiffs a duty of care and therefore the action against Shell constitutes a triable issue.

Merits:
TBD

Remedies:
TDB

Suggested citation:
UK Supreme Court, Okpabi and Others v. Royal Dutch Shell and Others, UKSC 2018/0068, Judgment of 12 February 2021, [2021] UKSC 3.

See also:
The similar (on the facts) case of Milieudefensie and Others v. Royal Dutch Shell PLC (before the Dutch courts).

For the full judgment, click here.

To watch a webcast of the hearing, click here.