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2020 Domestic court Emissions reductions European Convention on Human Rights Ireland Paris Agreement Private and family life Right to life

Friends of the Irish Environment v. Government of Ireland

Summary:
In this case, brought before the Irish Supreme Court by the environmental activist group Friends of the Irish Environment, the Supreme Court quashed the Irish National Mitigation Plan of 2017 on the grounds that it was incompatible with the Irish Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 (the 2015 Climate Act). The Supreme Court ordered the creation of a new, Climate Act-compliant plan.

Facts:
The case was premised on evidence that Ireland was set to miss its 2030 mitigation targets by a substantial degree.

Domestic instances:
The applicant’s claim was unsuccessful before the High Court. After the High Court proceedings were concluded, the Irish Supreme Court agreed to hear the case directly, without first seizing the Court of Appeal with the case. In doing so, the Supreme Court noted the “general public and legal importance” of the case, and the fact that the seriousness of climate change, the climate science, and the emissions at stake were not contested.

Merits:
In a unanimous seven-judge judgment, delivered by Chief Justice Clarke on 31 July 2020, the Supreme Court found that the Mitigation Plan did not reach the level of detail required under the 2015 Climate Act and was ultra vires that Act.

However, the judges did not allow the applicants’ rights-based arguments. Because Friends of the Irish Environment was a corporate entity, it did not enjoy the right to life or bodily integrity under the ECHR and the Irish Constitution, and lacked standing to bring these claims. Chief Justice Clarke CJ accepted that constitutional rights could be engaged in environmental cases, but held that the Irish Constitution does not contain a right to a healthy environment.

Date of judgment:
31 July 2020

Suggested citation:
Supreme Court of Ireland, Friends of the Irish Environment v. The Government of Ireland and Others, Judgment of 31 July 2020, [2020] IESC 49.

Further reading:
Orla Kelleher, ‘The Supreme Court of Ireland’s decision in Friends of the Irish Environment v Government of Ireland (“Climate Case Ireland”)’ in EJIL Talk!, 9 September 2020.

The full text of the judgment is available here.