This landmark decision recognizes the urgency of responding to the climate emergency and sets a precedent for courts around the world to follow.
Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) have won a historic legal challenge, known as ‘Climate Case Ireland,’ against the Irish Government.
The landmark Supreme Court judgment held that the government’s National Mitigation Plan, a main plank of its climate change policy, failed to specify the manner in which it is proposed to achieve the ‘national transition objective’, as required by the Climate Act 2015.
This means that the Government has failed to specify how it plans for Ireland to transition to “a low carbon climate resilient and environmental sustainable economy by the end of 2050”. The Government must now create a new, more ambitious National Mitigation Plan that complies with Ireland’s national and international climate obligations.
Climate Case Ireland is the first case of its kind in Ireland and only the second case in the world in which the highest national court of law has required a Government to revise its national climate policy in light of its legal obligations.
Ireland currently has one of the highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions per capita in Europe and, contrary to longstanding recommendations of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Ireland’s emissions have been rising rather than falling.
The Environmental Protection Agency projects that Ireland’s emissions will increase significantly over the period 1990 to 2020, when the Government has repeatedly endorsed the IPCC’s advice that emissions need to fall rapidly and deeply over this period to help avert dangerous climate breakdown.
The case was heard in the Supreme Court in June by an exceptional seven Supreme Court Judges – the composition reserved exceptionally for cases of particular importance or complexity.
The remarkably quick turnaround by the Supreme Court in issuing its judgment just one month later reflects the urgency of the climate crisis and the need for the Irish Government to respond in a timely manner.
Beth Doherty of Fridays for Future Ireland remarked that: “The Irish Government can no longer make promises it will not fulfil. It has a legal obligation to protect citizens from the worst impacts of climate change by reducing Ireland’s emissions in the short-term. Failure to do so is a breach of its legal obligations on climate change.”
Clodagh Daly, spokesperson for Climate Case Ireland, commented: “We are overwhelmed with gratitude for our supporters for taking this journey with us. Exciting as a legal win may be, the real work now lies in the creation of a transformed National Mitigation Plan – one that guarantees the rapid and dramatic reduction of Ireland’s emissions.”
Ireland contributes disproportionately to the climate crisis, but we have the means to lead the (dangerously overdue) transition to a low-carbon economy and society. It is technologically and economically feasible for us to achieve this – and the Supreme Court has now affirmed that there is no legal basis for a lack of political will. The government needs to step up.”
FIE’s victory has significant international, as well as national, repercussions. It confirms that developed countries, which have historically disproportionately contributed to climate change, must take the lead in reducing emissions.
Dr. David R. Boyd, UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, commented: "This landmark decision recognizes the urgency of responding to the climate emergency and sets a precedent for courts around the world to follow."
Solomon Yeo, a member of the Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change, added: “The Irish Supreme Court has affirmed what we know to be true: governments have legal obligations to take urgent action to fight climate change.
"Courts have a crucial role to play in holding governments to account, but they are a last resort. The law is clear: governments must act now to address the climate catastrophe.”
Marjan Minnesma, CEO of Urgenda, noted: “The Irish Supreme Court has taken a historic step today that will give hope to people all over the world.
"When so many people feel like their governments are not listening to their concerns about the climate crisis, this ruling shows that courts can play a critical role in addressing this crisis. This decision is welcome inspiration and governments around the world should pay close attention.”
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from Friends of the Irish Environment.