Why climate decision is important
Sir, – Last week’s decision by a seven-judge Supreme Court to quash the National Mitigation Plan 2017 – 2022 was indeed a “scathing judgment” (“Supreme Court has called time on government waffle”, Fintan O’Toole, August 4th). The judgment pointed out that the plan “falls a long way short of the sort of specificity which the statute requires to inform the views of the reasonable and interested member of the public as to whether that policy is considered to be effective and appropriate”.
Our highest court rejected entirely one of the government’s standard defences when challenged in court – “justiciability”, ie the idea that certain matters are immune from legal challenge altogether. It drew a clear distinction between government “policy” on climate change and “the plan”, the 2017 legal document required by the “Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015”. The former is generally protected from legal challenge. The latter is a legal document, the challenge of which does not represent an “impermissible impingement by the courts into areas of policy”.
However, having quashed the “plan” on the ground that it did not comply with the 2015 Act, the court appeared to close the door as a general matter to NGOs such as ourselves vindicating personal constitutional rights and human rights. These include the rights to life and bodily integrity, for example – as these are “personal rights which FIE itself [as a corporate body] does not enjoy”.
In closing that door, however, the court pointed the way to future rights-based environmental actions “brought in the ordinary way by persons who would undoubtedly enjoy the right to life and the right to bodily integrity” or “the right to property and the special position of the home”.
This is hugely significant and emphasises the growing importance of brave individual litigants willing to risk the costs of litigation (personal as well as financial) to vindicate basic rights that we as NGOs cannot pursue for them (although the chief justice pointed out that such cases could be taken with an NGO providing “support for such individuals in whatever manner it considered appropriate”).
The Supreme Court’s judgment sends the clear signal that recalcitrant governments can be and will be held accountable in court for their climate obligations. But future climate plans must be closely scrutinised by citizens willing to step forward to ensure that decisions on addressing climate breakdown are informed by the human rights established and agreed internationally – as well as those rights derived from our own Constitution. – Yours, etc,
Friends of the Irish Environment,