Environmentalists in France and Ireland are taking their governments to court to force them to step up actions against climate change. This was prompted by a historic 2018 ruling that The Netherlands must accelerate emissions reduction, aiming to guarantee the community’s safety.
In October, a Dutch appeals court said the government had “done too little to prevent the dangers of climate change. And is doing too little to catch up”, ordering it to ensure planet-warming emissions are at least 25 percent below 1990 levels by the end of 2020.
Tessa Khan is a lawyer with the Urgenda Foundation which brought the Dutch case on behalf of nearly 900 citizens. Khan said this and other ongoing climate legal actions are based on the principle that governments must meet their obligations under human rights law and the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
“(These cases) all spring from the broad notion that our governments have the duty to protect us from threats of this scale that they have contributed to knowingly,” said Khan, who is co-director of the Climate Litigation Network.
French non-profits demand compensation for climate change
In France, four non-governmental groups, including Greenpeace and Oxfam, fired the starting gun on December 17.
They sent a “preliminary request for compensation” in a 41-page letter to the French prime minister and a dozen ministers. In it, they denounced the state for failing to take concrete and effective measures to combat climate change.
The government has two months to respond. If it fails to give a satisfactory answer, the groups are preparing to file a full legal action with the Paris Administrative Court in March.
Armelle Le Comte, climate and energy advocacy manager at Oxfam France, said the ripple of lawsuits on climate action around the world reflected growing urgency. In detail, the impacts of extreme weather and rising seas have become more visible.
Governments, including France, have talked a lot about tackling climate change, but have not done enough in practice.
“So I think it is not surprising that more citizens, charities, and NGOs decide that legal action is maybe the answer,” she said.
Climate change and famous faces
In the meantime, the NGOs have been raising awareness about the case and the need for stronger climate action in France through a YouTube video featuring celebrities such as actress Juliette Binoche, and writer and film director Cyril Dion.
They also launched an online petition in support of what they are calling the “Case of the Century”. It has garnered nearly 2.1 million signatures in about a month.
Le Comte said wide public support for the legal action was important in providing a sense of legitimacy to it.
The case is particularly poignant in France. This country has been rocked in recent months by “yellow vest” protests over social inequality and the high cost of living that were initially sparked by planned hikes in fuel tax.
Emissions rise in Ireland
In Ireland, backers of the climate change case, scheduled to begin in the High Court on January 22, are organizing a children’s rally in Dublin. On Saturday, they will urge leaders that “2019 must be the year of ambitious climate action”.
About 12,600 members of the public have backed “Climate Case Ireland” with online messages of support. Spokeswoman Sadhbh O Neill said awareness was growing in the country which has among the highest emissions per capita in the European Union.
“That helps us show the court that we have standing, that we’re not doing it in a self-interested way and that we are trying to be representative of concerned citizens,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
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