Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Climate Change: Europe must defend itself in court

The European Court of Human Rights has fast-tracked a case by young climate change activists challenging whether European states are doing enough on climate change. And now, 33 countries are going to have to defend their policies in court:

In a sign of the urgency of the climate crisis, the court will announce on Monday that it has green-lighted the crowdfunded case, which was filed two months ago. It has already confirmed it will be treated as a priority, which means the process will be fast-tracked.

The states – the EU27 plus Norway, Russia, Switzerland, the UK, Turkey and Ukraine – are obliged to respond by 23 February to the complaints of the plaintiffs, who say governments are moving too slowly to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are destabilising the climate.

If the defendant countries fail to convince the Strasbourg-based judges, lawyers say they will be legally bound to take more ambitious steps and to address the contribution they – and multinational companies headquartered in their jurisdictions – make to overseas emissions through trade, deforestation and extractive industries.

This is pretty significant case, with potentially huge consequences: every European country could be forced to rewrite its climate policies and make deeper cuts as a result. Which in turn could have a significant effect on global emissions, while setting a precedent for future accountability. And the mere act of having to front up and defend themselves in court should force these countries to consider the impact of their policies and whether they are doing enough.

Its not the only case. Three weeks ago a French court ordered its government to show it was taking sufficient action to stay within its carbon budgets. Which probably doesn't bode well for their performance before the ECHR.

In New Zealand, our Zero Carbon Act was built for cases like this. If the Minister sets an emissions budget which is too generous, or a reduction plan which is too weak, they can be judicially reviewed. And if they go against the advice of the Climate Change Commission in doing so, its likely to go against them. Which is one way of making sure they actually do something.