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Supreme Court finds government climate plan falls "well short"

The case was brought to the Supreme Court by Friends of the Irish Environment after the High Court rejected its case in September.

Members of Climate Case Ireland (CCI) arriving for the sitting of the Supreme Court last month.
Members of Climate Case Ireland (CCI) arriving for the sitting of the Supreme Court last month.
Image: RollingNews.ie/Sasko Lazarov

THE SUPREME COURT has found in favour of a case taken against the government on its plans to tackle climate change.

Chief Justice Clarke found that the government’s National Mitigation Plan falls “well short” of being specific enough to provide the transparency required to comply with the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. 

The case was brought to the Supreme Court by Friends of the Irish Environment after the High Court rejected its case in September.

Counsel for Friends of the Irish Environment argued that a 2017 government plan to tackle climate change would not have an adequate impact on rising emissions, and that breaches the Act because it did not specify how the government would achieve the 2050 objectives.

They argued that lack of sufficient action from the government was a breach of the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights in the area of rights to life, bodily integrity, and to a healthy environment with human dignity.

Chief Justice Clarke found that the 2015 Act “requires a sufficient level of specificity in the measures identified in a compliant plan that are required to meet the National Transitional Objective by 2050″.

He said that the 2015 Act involves transparency in formal government policy for achieving the climate objectives laid out in the NTO by 2050.

“A compliant plan is not a five-year plan but rather a plan covering the full period remaining to 2050.”

“The Plan falls well short of the level of specificity required to provide that transparency and to comply with the provisions of the 2015 Act,” Chief Justice Clarke found. 

Environmental group Friends of the Earth said that the judgement should give the government a push to take further action on reducing emissions.

Director of Friends of the Earth, Oisin Coghlan, said that the government “already had a  scientific, political and moral obligation to step up its efforts to cut climate-polluting emissions. Now the Supreme Court has ruled it has a legal obligation as well.” 

“We need bigger emission reductions – and we need the specific policies and measures to deliver them. Emission reductions must also be made fairly – the case for faster and fairer climate action has just become a whole lot stronger,” Coghlan said.

The Supreme Court heard the appeal against the High Court’s decision to uphold the 2017 National Mitigation Plan in June.

Friends of the Irish Environment asked the High Court to require the government to redraft the plan on the basis that it did not meet Ireland’s legal obligations to tackle climate change.

However, the High Court judge found that it would be inappropriate for the court to judicially review what he identified as a government policy document.

Senior Counsel for Friends of the Irish Environment, Eoin McCullogh, told the Supreme Court that climate action globally is “the single most important issue we face”.

The case argued that Ireland is “completely off course” to achieving emission reduction targets for 2020 and 2030.

Counsel for the state argued against the existence of a causal link between Ireland’s emission increases and human rights violations, and disputed FIE’s human rights arguments on the basis of FIE’s status as a company.

The 2015 Climate Act committed the government to transition to a “low carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by the end of the year 2050″.

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It required that the government produce a national mitigation plan every five years which specifies how the 2050 objectives will be achieved.

The Supreme Court finding has proposed that the 2017 plan be “quashed” on the basis that it does not provide enough specificity.

Judge Justice Clarke found that Friends of the Irish Environment, as a corporate entity, did not have the standing to maintain its arguments based around human rights, as the entity itself cannot participate in the right to life or the right to bodily integrity.

The plan was criticised by environmental organisations after its launch in 2017, who said that it was not ambitious enough and did not set meaningful targets to address climate change.

The plan allowed for a rise in Ireland’s emissions over the lifetime of the plan between 2017 and 2022.

Director of Friends of the Earth Oisin Coghlan said that the plan did not go far enough to “reduce Ireland’s climate-changing pollution”.

Shortly after the plan’s release, the government’s advisory council on climate change said that Ireland was not on track to meet short-term emission targets, or to decarbonise the economy by 2050, unless major new policy initiatives were developed.

It said that the efforts to reduce emissions needed to be increased across all sectors in order to achieve the long-term goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by at least 80% by 2050.

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