Through our legal advice clinics and our community engagement and training we assist with issues of:
- Negative environmental impacts of proposed developments;
- Health impacts arising from air pollution;
- Illegal dumping and the proximity of waste facilities to people’s homes;
- Serious health impacts arising from substandard accommodation and poor access to sanitation and clean water;
- Lack of enforcement in relation to environmental wrongs;
- Loss of homes and homelessness as a result of coastal erosion and flooding;
- Lack of access to green space and amenities; and
- Noise and dust pollution from commercial construction projects.
The following case examples show how the law has helped strengthen environmental protections in Ireland and other countries:
Climate Case Ireland
In a ground-breaking decision, on 31 July 2020, the Irish Supreme Court ruled in favour of Friends of the Irish Environment in their legal proceedings against the Irish Government known as “Climate Case Ireland.” The Supreme Court held that the Government’s 2017 National Mitigation Plan, a main pillar of its climate change policy, failed to specify how Ireland would transition to “a low carbon climate resilient and environmental sustainable economy by the end of 2050,” as required by the Climate Act 2015. The Supreme Court found that the Plan was “excessively vague and aspirational” and that “too much is left for further study or investigation.” As a result of the Supreme Court ruling, the Government has been required to create new, more ambitious climate policy that complies with Ireland’s national and international climate obligations.
Climate Case Ireland was the first case of its kind in Ireland and only the second case in the world in which the highest court of law ordered the government to revise its national climate policy in light of its legal obligations.
The Urgenda Climate Case against the Dutch Government was the first in the world in which citizens established that their government has a legal duty to prevent dangerous climate change. On 24 June 2015, the District Court of The Hague ruled the government must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020 (compared to 1990 levels). The ruling required the government to immediately take more effective action on climate change. The District Court’s decision was appealed by the State and upheld by the Court of Appeal on 9 October 2018. Following this judgment, the State appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Urgenda on 20 December 2019, stating that the Dutch government must reduce emissions immediately in line with its human rights obligations.
Neubauer v Germany (youth climate case)
In a landmark decision of 29 April 2021, Germany’s highest court found that the Government’s climate protection law violates the fundamental rights of young people and future generations and must be improved.
The youth argued that Germany’s climate law (which set a reduction target of 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels) was insufficient to protect against dangerous climate change and therefore violated their fundamental rights, including their right to life, right to health and right to a decent future.
The Court agreed, noting that: “one generation must not be allowed to consume large portions of the CO2 budget while bearing a relatively minor share of the reduction effort, if this would involve leaving subsequent generations with a drastic reduction burden and expose their lives to serious losses of freedom”.
Milieudefensie v. Shell.
On May 26, 2021, the Hague District Court ruled in favour of Milieudefensie and 17,000 individual plaintiffs, ordering Shell to reduce its emissions by 45% by 2030, relative to 2019, across all its activities, including both its own emissions and end-use emissions. In other words, emissions from its own operations and emissions from burning the oil it produces. The Court made its decision provisionally enforceable, meaning Shell will be required to meet its reduction obligations even as the case is appealed.
This ground-breaking case has forced a company that helped drive the climate crisis to take responsibility for their actions.
The right to breathe clean air: historic case in France
In the first case of its kind, a French mother and teenage daughter successfully sued the French Government over the health impacts of air pollution in Paris. The court said: “The state committed a fault by taking insufficient measures concerning the quality of air.” It said that between 2012 and 2016 the state failed to take measures needed to reduce concentrations of certain polluting gases exceeding the limits.
Nadir Saïfi, the vice-president of the organisation Ecology without Borders, told Le Monde: “This is a historic judgment for the 67,000 French people who die prematurely each year due to air pollution. Today victims of pollution, like victims of pesticide, should not be afraid to go to court to defend their health.”
The Clean Water Case of the Century
In 2012, Earthjustice sued Maui County on behalf of four Maui community groups over a wastewater treatment facility in Maui that was polluting the reef and destroying marine life.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upheld vital protections for the United States oceans, rivers, and lakes.
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