State intent on fighting climate change campaigners in court despite admitting they are right

State intent on fighting climate change campaigners in court despite admitting they are right
Communications, Climate Action and Environment Minister Richard Bruton

The Government is intent on fighting climate change campaigners in the High Court despite admitting that what they say is true.

Lawyers for the State have been instructed to mount a full defence to a challenge being taken on environmental and human rights grounds which begins in the High Court in the coming weeks.

The State’s legal team has spent 16 months preparing for the case which will be heard over four days in the High Court.

It has also made numerous court appearances on preliminary matters, including one just before Christmas, pushing anticipated costs to more than €100,000.

Yet, Communications, Climate Action and Environment Minister Richard Bruton and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have effectively admitted those behind the case are right.

Mr Bruton’s department declined to comment on the substance of the case or to acknowledge any inherent contradictions. A spokesperson said: “The case is listed for hearing in January 2019. The State continues to defend this case.

“As is usual in such cases, external counsel have been retained by the State through the Office of the Chief State Solicitor on the instruction of the Office of the Attorney General and costs associated with this are a matter for those offices in the first instance.”

The case centres on the National Mitigation Plan, the document published in 2017 which is the primary statutory instrument on climate action and is meant to provide a road map for the country to dramatically cut carbon emissions in line with European and international agreements.

Climate Case Ireland, launched by Friends of the Irish Environment with the backing of other campaign groups, argues the plan is weak in its ambitions and vague on practical proposals, does not meet the legal requirements of the landmark Climate and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, and breaches the Constitution and international human rights obligations.

The Mitigation Plan has been heavily criticised by the Government’s own Climate Action Advisory Council as well as by environmental and human rights groups, while Mr Bruton in recent weeks declared Ireland’s position on climate action was “dire” and the Taoiseach twice this year labelled the country a “laggard” on the issue.

Cabinet has also tacitly acknowledged the plan’s failings, trying to supplement it with more specific climate action goals in the National Development Plan published earlier this year and drawing up a draft new National Energy and Climate Plan in recent weeks which will effectively usurp the Mitigation Plan.

Friends of the Irish Environment would not discuss the merits of their case or the State’s response while the hearing is pending but spokesperson Sadhbh O’Neill said they were very encouraged by the public reaction.

More than 8,500 people have signed an online declaration stating that the case is also being taken in their name. “We have been absolutely astounded by the level of public support. In the last few weeks we have had 2,000 new signatures and in an Irish context that’s very significant. We are a tiny organisation with a tiny budget so all of this support is happening in a very grassroots way,” said Ms O’Neill.

“A lot of the messages that people are giving us when they sign show they are really alarmed and have a lot of fear for their children’s futures. They are demanding that Government do the right thing, step up to the challenge, put politics to one side, and start delivering on their obligations.”

It is understood the Cabinet sees the case as one where the separation of powers of the judiciary and the executive is at stake.

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