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Maeve Higgins: This week's Supreme Court case could shape how Ireland deals with climate change for years to come

The Supreme Court is hearing an important appeal by Irish climate activists today and tomorrow.

Maeve Higgins

THERE IS A lot going on, don’t you think? Plagues, America, queues outside Penneys, but I’m keeping my eye on the ball. The ultimate ball: the planet. 

I just spent three months at home in Cobh watching springtime unfold and it was almost laughably beautiful. This climate we have, these fields and trees and fresh clean air, is truly something magical compared to much of the world.

But I couldn’t relax. My mind kept flashing forward to a dystopian future where all the trees were burned and all the birds were dead. I felt like Sarah Connor in The Terminator, abs and all.

Irish governments have not protected our climate. In fact the ‘plan’ the outgoing government put in place is to quietly allow the Irish environment, people included, to continue being unprotected and abused, with the inevitable result of pure climate chaos. If you think I’m over-reacting, please refer to the research of basically every scientist working during this ongoing mass extinction or simply understand that Ireland is literally heating up and the seas around our tiny island are acidifying and on the rise.

I used to feel paralysed and frightened about this, until my President for Life, the O.G. Mary Robinson, made me her co-host on Mothers of Invention, a climate justice podcast.

Through her I have met dozens of incredible women; farmers, lawyers, scientists, teenagers, all of whom work for solutions to the biggest existential threat humanity has ever faced. A resounding ‘DO SOMETHING’ is what I hear from them. Today and tomorrow, an extremely brave group of Irish people are doing something – something huge.

They are taking the Irish State to court, to the highest court we have, the Supreme Court, challenging the 2017 National Mitigation Plan. That plan is so weak it actually allows greenhouse gases to rise, and puts us all in increasing danger.

The case

This group, a voluntary network of citizens known as Friends of the Irish Environment, is asking the court to make the State create and enact a better plan. The case has an over-arching demand too, one that is devastating in its simplicity: we deserve the constitutional and human right to a safe environment.

Having been rejected by the High Court last year, it’s interesting that the Supreme Court determined that exceptional circumstances warranted a direct appeal to it. The case, called Climate Case Ireland, raises issues of general public and legal importance, and as noted by the court, there is no dispute between Friends of The Irish Environment and the State on the facts.

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The maddening thing is that none of this is new information. Back in 2018 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stated “As far as I am concerned, we are a laggard. I am not proud of Ireland’s performance on climate change.”

Despite this acknowledgement, the State continued to keep its head in the ever-increasing sand. This year already the Climate Change Performance Index highlighted Ireland as being one of the worst performing European member states for action on climate change. Climate science is not playing around, and neither should we.

Those of us over 30, including each of the seven Supreme Court justices who will hear the case, will probably not live to see the horror unfold. It’s deeply unjust for Irish children and babies who most certainly will. Unless, of course, we do something.

The State will have a full defence team today, a team of legal professionals arguing that actually everything is fine, we’re in safe hands, and we do not need the right to a healthy environment. They are wrong. So, what can you and I do? We can stand with the people in this fight for the most basic of human rights, a safe place to live. We can take this principled stand and turn our laggard of a country around. By doing so we’ll be reaching into the future to help those who need it – and God knows they will.

Maeve Higgins is a writer and comedian and co-host of the climate justice podcast Mothers Of Invention with Mary Robinson.

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Maeve Higgins

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