Litigation by citizens leading to better climate change policies, Irish research finds

Litigation by citizens leading to better climate change policies, Irish research finds

Like other island nations, Ireland is particularly vulnerable to oceanic changes resulting from climate change.

Taking national governments to court over climate policies, such as happened when an environmental body won a case at the Irish Supreme Court last year, can help spur real and meaningful change.

That is according to a new paper from the Dublin-based international affairs think tank, the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA), which looked at the increasing litigation taken across Europe by citizens and groups over perceived shortfalls in action taken on the climate crisis.

The IIEA said that the historic signing of Ireland's Climate Bill, which commits Ireland to a 51% reduction in emissions by 2030, was hugely influenced by action taken by the Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) group.

In July last year, the Supreme Court unanimously quashed the Government’s 2017 plan under the Climate Action Act of 2015, following a case taken by FIE that argued it was inadequate.

The IIEA research paper, authored by former Labour Communications Minister, Alex White, and senior researcher on climate and energy Policy at the IIEA, Luke O’Callaghan-White, said the judgment was hailed variously as a “turning point” , a “landmark judgment” , and a “watershed moment”. 

"Without question this was a significant moment in the evolution of Irish public policy on climate change: a critical plan adopted by government was deemed inadequate, and therefore unlawful," the paper said.

Climate cases against national governments are on the increase throughout the world, and particularly in Europe, the analysis found. 

"The resulting judgments are frequently grounded on the robust consensus now evident in the scientific community on the need to limit global temperature increases. In many high-profile cases, apex courts have found in favour of litigants and ordered states to enhance climate action measures."

The majority of such cases - 58% - taken outside of the US have led to outcomes entailing more effective climate regulation, the analysis found.

Mr O’Callaghan-White said: "There is a perception that climate cases are typically unsuccessful. This is not true. 

A majority of cases taken against national governments result in better climate regulations. This will inspire more cases in different jurisdictions.

“What we have found and argue in this paper, is that climate litigation will continue to be an effective method to accelerate climate action, as it affords citizens the opportunity to scrutinise and supervise government action through court intervention."

Mr White said the analysis looked at three leading cases from the Netherlands, Ireland, and Germany.

"It represents a real opportunity for citizens and activist groups to lead public scrutiny of governments and of the extent to which they are truly implementing their own policies," he said.

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