Summary: Greenpeace Italy, together with ReCommon (an Italian association involved in questioning corporate and State power) and twelve Italian citizens from different regions of the country manifestly affected by climate change impacts, filed a lawsuit against ENI, a major oil & gas multinational company, and the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance, which, also through Cassa Depositi e Prestiti S.p.A. (an important public financial institution), has a relevant influence on the corporation.
The applicants asked the Court to ascertain and declare that the defendants share liability for the moral and material damagesthey suffered to their health, life and properties due to climate change impacts, and for further endangering these same assets. The claimants allege ENI contributed to climate change as its activities, either industrial, commercial or for transportation of energy products, caused greenhouse gas emissions far beyond the limits suggested by the scientific community, notwithstanding the temperature goals internationally recognized in the Paris Agreement, which implies emissions reductions both in the public and in the private sphere. The claimants argue that the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance and Cassa Depositi e Prestiti S.p.A. (whose majority shareholder is the same Ministry), as shareholders of the oil&gas corporation, could have influenced its strategy concerning the ecological transition away from fossil fuels, but did not leverage their relevant influence in that direction.
The legal strategy is primarily based on Article 2043 of the Italian Civil Code, dedicated to liability for non-contractual damages and interpreted, according to previous case-law, as a tool for human rights protection. The applicants claimed a violation of their rights to life, health, and respect for private and family life, as enshrined in the Italian Constitution, in the European Convention on Human Rights, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and that ENI shall respect according to the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for multinational enterprises. The claimants drew on attribution science to argue for the existence of a causal link, and recalled the reasoning of the Dutch courtsin the Urgenda case, according to which even a quantitatively relatively low level of greenhouse emissions on the global scale contributes to climate change, meaning that there is a sufficient causal link between those emissions and their present and future adverse effects. In addition, the applicants rely subsidiarily on Article 2050 of the Italian Civil Code, dedicated to liability for dangerous activities, that implies a reversed burden of proof: the defendant shall prove that every measure was taken to prevent the damaging event.
Concerning remedies, the claimants did not ask the Court to quantify the damages. Recalling the case against Royal Dutch Shell (Milieudefensie), they asked the Court to order ENI to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 45% in 2030 compared to 2020 and to align to the 1.5°C temperature goal. They also asked the Court to impose a monetary sanction in case the order is not fulfilled. The applicants also asked the Court to order the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance and Cassa Depositi e Prestiti S.p.A. to adopt a policy defining climate goals to foster as relevant shareholder of the corporation.
This is not the first instance of rights-based climate litigation in Italy: you can read about the previously filed lawsuit against the Italian State here in the Database.
Summary: On 21 February 2023, it was announced that a climate case had been brought by twelve children before the Austrian Constitutional Court (“Verfassungsgerichtshof”). They argue that the failure to take adequate climate protection measures is endangering their future. The claimants, aged between five and sixteen years old, invoke the rights of the child with are, in Austria, protected by the Constitution. The argue that inadequate domestic climate legislation (the “Klimaschutzgesetz” of 2011) violates these rights. Because it is not leading to emissions reductions, it is also failing to protect children from the life-threatening effects of climate change and accordingly violates the domestic Constitution.
The case is being supported by Fridays For Future und the asssociation CLAW – Initiative für Klimarecht. It invokes the Federal Constitutional Law on Children’s Rights, which guarantees — among other things — constitutional-level rights to protection and care, child welfare and participation, a prohibition of child labor and violence and a prohibition of discrimination against children living with disabilities.
Summary: This amparo case was filed before the Superior Court of Justice of Lima, Peru, on 16 December 2019. Brought by a group of young Peruvians, it alleges that the government has not taken adequate measures halt deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, a major carbon sink, and to take adequate mitigation and adaptation measures in the face of climate change. They submit that this particularly harms the rights of young people, whose futures are in jeopardy because of climate change.
Before the court, they invoke the constitutional and human right to a healthy environment, drawing in particular on the Peruvian Constitution, the ICESCR, and the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights (also known as the “Protocol of San Salvador”). They also invoke their right to human dignity (Art. 1 of the Peruvian Constitution) and their right to life (Art. 2.1 of the Peruvian Constitution), along with — among others — the right to health and to water. They also invoke the preventive and precautionary principles and draw on constitutional principles concerning the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of natural resources, the social function of law, the best interests of the child, solidarity and intergenerational equity.
The claimants submit that public policies on environmental protection are insufficient “to mitigate a problem that, according to scientific evidence, is worsening and threatens the very survival of the human species on the planet. This scenario is even more acute for the claimants – minors, born between 2005 and 2011 – whose future is severely compromised as a result of the current climate and ecological crisis. The conditions for their well-being and that of their descendants for decades to come depend, to a large extent, on the actions taken today. Tomorrow will be too late. In Peru – a megadiverse country that is vulnerable to climate change – the problem is particularly pressing. The plaintiffs, therefore, have suffered a violation of their fundamental right to enjoy a healthy environment, as well as threats to their fundamental rights to life, to a “life project” (“proyeto de vida”), to water and to health” (translation from the original Spanish by climaterightsdatabase.com)
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.
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.”
Summary: This case was brought by two houses of the Wet’suwet’en indigenous group against Canada on 10 February 2020. The plaintiffs argue that the Canadian government has violated their constitutional and human rights by failing to meet its international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They argue that the effects of warming are already being felt on their territories, including in the form of negative health effects. They also argue that the historical treatment and ongoing discrimination against indigenous peoples in Canada exacerbate the trauma of climate change. They invoke, among other things, their rights to life, liberty and security of person, and the right to equality.
The Federal Court granted a motion to strike out the claim on 16 November 2020, finding that the case was not justiciable, lacked a reasonable cause of action, and did not seek legally available remedies. The plaintiffs appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal on 10 December 2020; the appeal was still pending in August 2022.
Relief sought: The applicants seek several different forms of relief. These include declaratory relief concerning Canada’s obligations to reduce its emissions and respect the plaintiffs’ rights, including the rights of future member of the Wet’suwet’en indigenous group. The plaintiffs also seek an order requiring the government to amend its environmental assessment statutes that apply to extant high GHG emitting projects, and an order requiring a complete, independent and timely annual account of Canada’s cumulative greenhouse gas emissions in a format that allows a comparison to be made with Canada’s fair carbon budget.
Findings of the Federal Court: Among other things, the Federal Court found that “this matter is not justiciable as it is the realm of the other two branches of government. This broad topic is beyond the reach of judicial interference. [It did] not find that there is a sufficient legal component to anchor the analysis as this action is a political one that may touch on moral/strategic/ideological/historical or policy-based issues and determinations within the realm of the remaining branches of government.” It also found, concerning this case, that “not only is there not sufficient legality, but the remedies sought are not appropriate remedies, but rather solutions that are appropriate to be executed by the other branches of government.”
Further reading: The full text of the judgment of the Federal Court is available via climatecasechart.
Suggested citation: Federal Court of Ottowa, Lho’imggin et al. v. Her Majesty the Queen, Order of 16 November 2020, 2020 FC 1059.
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.
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.
Summary: This petition against Australia was brought to the UN Human Rights Committee by a group of eight indigenous Torres Straits Islanders in 2019, in their own names and on behalf of their children. In their petition, they argued that the Australian government had violated their rights, as inhabitants of low-lying islands, under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) because of its inaction in addressing climate change (failure to mitigate emissions and to take adaptation measures).
Rights at stake: The applicants in this case invoked a series of rights in the ICCPR, on behalf of themselves and their children, contesting the respondent State’s failure to adopt mitigation measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cease the promotion of fossil fuels. To support this, they drew on Article 27 (the right to culture), Article 17 (the right to be free from arbitrary interference with privacy, family and home), and Article 6 (the right to life) ICCPR. They argued that the indigenous peoples of the Torres Strait Islands, especially those who reside on low-lying islands, are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. They considered that the Australian government must ensure both mitigation and adaptation measures in order to adequately protect their rights. Previously, the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA), a government body, had stated that “the effects of climate change threaten the islands themselves as well as marine and coastal ecosystems and resources, and therefore the life, livelihoods and unique culture of Torres Strait Islanders.”
On 21 July 2022, the Human Rights Committee adopted its Views in this case.
Observations of the State:
The Australian Government argued that the case was inadmissible, contesting the relevance of climate-related international agreements and its own ability to be held (legally or practically) responsible for climate-related harms. It also submitted that it was not possible to attribute climate change to the State party under international human rights law.
The HRC’s considerations on the admissibility:
On the issue of the exhaustion of domestic remedies, the Government’s position was that it did not owe a duty of care for failing to regulate environmental harm, and that it was not required to provide a remedy where (including in the present case) it understood there to be no breach of ICCPR rights. This question was accordingly reserved to the examination of the merits.
Concerning mitigation measures, the HRC noted that Australia is and has been a major greenhouse gas emitter, and ranks high on economic and development indices. As a result, it found that the alleged (in)actions fell under its jurisdiction under articles 1 or 2 of the Optional Protocol.
Concerning the imminence of the risk concerned, and accordingly the issue of victim status / standing, the Committee found that the authors of this Communication, “as members of peoples who are the longstanding inhabitants of traditional lands consisting of small, low-lying islands that presumably offer scant opportunities for safe internal relocation – are highly exposed to adverse climate change impacts”. Given the uncontested dependence of their lives and cultures on natural resources and phenomena, and their inability to finance adaptation measures on their own, the authors were considered to be “extremely vulnerable to intensely experiencing severely disruptive climate change impacts”. Given the authors’ allegations of serious ongoing adverse impacts, the HRC declared their claims under articles 6, 17, 24 (1) and 27 of the ICCPR admissible.
The Committee recalled that the right to life cannot be interpreted restrictively, and that it requires States to adopt protective measures (i.e. that it entails positive obligations). It recalled its own General Comment No. 36, issued in 2018, in establishing that the right to life also extends to reasonably foreseeable threats to life, including adverse climate change impacts and environmental degradation.
The Committee rejected Australia’s allegation that the interpretation of the ICCPR contained in this General Comment was not compatible with the rules of treaty interpretation under general international law. It then went on to recall its own earlier Teitiota v. New Zealand case (on climate-induced displacement), ultimately finding that the authors were not currently facing health impacts or real and reasonably foreseeable risks of being exposed harms to their right to life. The Committee also noted that the right-to-life claim being made largely related to the authors’ ability to maintain their culture, which falls under article 27 ICCPR.
Regarding the authors’ submission that, absent urgent action, their islands will become uninhabitable within 10 to 15 years, the Committee noted the adaptation and mitigation measures currently planned or being taken, and found that the time frame of 10 to 15 years could allow for additional protective measures or relocation programmes. As a result, it found that there had been no violation of the right to life in this case.
The authors claimed that climate change already affects their private, family and home life, given that they may be forced to abandon their homes. The Committee considered that the authors’ dependence on marine and terrestrial resources and ecosystems is a component of their traditional indigenous way of life, falling under the scope of Article 17 ICCPR.
Considering the adaptation measures and related plans in place, the Committee noted the existence of unexplained delays in seawall construction and the lack of explanation concerning the loss of marine resources, crops and fruit trees. It noted the ongoing inundation of villages and ancestral burial lands; the withering of traditional gardens through salinification; the decline of nutritionally and culturally important marine species; coral bleaching and ocean acidification; and the authors’ anxiety and distress. The Committee also noted the importance of community lands for the authors’ most important cultural ceremonies. It accordingly found that:
“that when climate change impacts – including environmental degradation on traditional [indigenous] lands (…) – have direct repercussions on the right to one’s home, and the adverse consequences of those impacts are serious because of their intensity or duration and the physical or mental harm that they cause, then the degradation of the environment may adversely affect the well-being of individuals and constitute foreseeable and serious violations of private and family life and the home.”
Finding that Australia had failed to discharge its positive obligation to implement adequate adaptation measures to protect the authors’ home, private life and family, the HRC found a violation of the authors’ rights under article 17 ICCPR.
Article 27 ICCPR recognizes the right of members of minority indigenous groups to the enjoyment of culture, and protects the survival and continued development of their cultural identity. Interpreted in the light of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, this right enshrines the inalienable right of indigenous peoples to enjoy their traditional territories and natural resources. Here, the authors argued that their ability to maintain their culture has already been impaired due to climate change impacts, which have eroded their traditional lands and natural resources, for which there is no substitute on mainland Australia. The Committee found that these climate impacts represent a threat that was reasonably foreseeable by the State party, as the authors’ community had been raising the issue since the 1990s. While noting existing seawall construction projects, it considered that the delay in initiating these projects indicated an inadequate response by the State party to the threat in question. It found that the failure to adopt timely and adequate adaptation measures “to protect the authors’ collective ability to maintain their traditional way of life, to transmit to their children and future generations their culture and traditions and use of land and sea resources discloses a violation of the State party’s positive obligation to protect the authors’ right to enjoy their minority culture.” Accordingly, it found a violation of Article 27 ICCPR.
As a result of its findings concerning Articles 17 and 27 ICCPR, the HRC considered it not necessary to examine the authors’ remaining claims under article 24 (1) ICCPR.
Under Article 2 (3) (a) ICCPR, the HRC noted that the State was required to make full reparation to the authors, which meant providing adequate compensation; engaging in meaningful consultations with their communities to conduct needs assessments; continuing its adaptation measures and monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of existing measures; and taking steps to prevent similar violations in the future. The Committee requested the State to provide it with information about the measures taken in this regard within 180 days.
Several HRC members appended individual opinions to the Views. These include:
The individual opinion by Committee Member Duncan Laki Muhumuza, arguing that there had been a violation of Article 6ICCPR (the right to life);
The individual opinion by Committee Member Gentian Zyberi, concurring but arguing that the Committee had focused too heavily on adaptation measures, and should instead have more clearly linked the right under Article 27 ICCPR to mitigation measures;
The joint opinion by Committee Members Arif Bulkan, Marcia V. J. Kran and Vasilka Sancin (partially dissenting), who argued that there had been a violation of Article 6 ICCPR (the right to life). They argued in particular that the “real and foreseeable risk” standard employed by the majority interpreted Article 6 too restrictively, and was inappropriate here as it had been borrowed from the dissimilar context of its refugee cases (Teitiota v. New Zealand, the HRC’s first climate-induced displacement case).
Maria Antonia Tigre, ‘U.N. Human Rights Committee finds that Australia is violating human rights obligations towards Torres Strait Islanders for climate inaction’, available here.
Verena Kahl, ‘Rising Before Sinking: The UN Human Rights Committee’s landmark decision in Daniel Billy et al. v. Australia,’ Verfassungsblog, 3 October 2022, available here.
Nicole Barrett and Aishani Gupta, ‘Why Did the UN Human Rights Committee Refuse Broader Protections for Climate Change Victims?’, Opinio Juris blog, 5 October 2022, available here.
Christina Voigt, ‘UNHRC is Turning up the Heat: Human Rights Violations Due to Inadequate Adaptation Action to Climate Change’, EJIL:Talk! Blog, 26 September 2022, available here.
Monica Feria-Tinta, ‘Torres Strait Islanders: United Nations Human Rights Committee Delivers Ground-Breaking Decision on Climate Change Impacts on Human Rights’, EJIL:Talk! Blog, 27 September 2022, available here.
UN Human Rights Committee, Daniel Billy et al. v. Australia, Communication No. 3624/2019, 22 September 2022, UN Doc. CCPR/C/135/D/3624/2019.
Summary: On 11 July 2022, a case was filed with the conciliation authority in the Swiss canton of Zug concerning the greenhouse gas emissions of the corporate cement giant Holcim AG. The case was brought by four Indonesian nationals, who live on the island of Pari and earn their livelihoods through fishing and tourism. Inspired by the RWE case, they argue that rising sea levels and floods, which are all caused or aggravated by climate change, are threatening their livelihoods. The cement industry is a major emitter of greenhouse gases, currently emitting approximately 8% of yearly global CO2 emissions. and Holcim is the market leader in this sector. On this basis, the plaintiffs seek compensation from Holcim for the damage to their property and for future damages. They also seek adaptation measures to protect themselves against future impacts, and argue that Holcim should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43% (compared to 2019 levels) by 2030, and 69% by 2040. This demands more rapid change than what is foreseen by the company’s own commitment to achieving climate neutrality by 2050.
Background of the claim: The claim concerns the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the cement industry, which are largely made up of direct emissions. In a press conference, representatives for NGOs supporting the plaintiffs noted that 3/4 of Holcim’s emissions are direct emissions, as opposed to the largely indirect emissions created by the fossil fuel industry. The plaintiffs’ claim is based on references to climate attribution science, including reports by the IPCC, and the findings by the US Climate Accountability Institute that Holcim is responsible for .42% of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1751.
With the support of Swiss Church Aid HEKS/EPER, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the Indonesian environmental organization WALHI, the plaintiffs are invoking Swiss civil law, more specifically a violation of their personality rights and, tort law to argue that their human rights have been violated through the effects of the company’s emissions and that even more severe violations are forthcoming if Holcim does not reduce its emissions. They argue that the company should assume historical responsibility for its past emissions, but also future responsibility in the sense of rapidly reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.
Expected further developments: As required under procedural law, the case has been brought as a request for arbitration. Arbitration proceedings are expected to commence in the fall of 2022. If the efforts at arbitration do not succeed in reaching a mutually agreeable solution, the case may proceed as a civil claim.
Further information: For a press release on the case, see here.
For more information, see the dossier compiled by the supporting NGOs here.
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”.