Irish Government in the Dock over failures on Climate Action

Barristers representing Climate Case Ireland argued that [the failures of the Irish Government to adequately respond to the threats posed by Climate Change] constitutes a breach of the Irish Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights, the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, and administrative law.

Climate Case Ireland is an historic initiative taken by concerned Irish citizens who are legally challenging the Irish Government over its continuing failure to adequately address the growing and accelerating threats posed by Climate Breakdown. Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), whose headquarters are in Kilcatherine, Eyeries, Co. Cork, are plaintiffs in the case.

The hearing opened on Tuesday, 22 January 2019, and lasted four days. 

Over 100 supporters, comprising young and old, gathered outside the Four Courts on each of the four days of the historic hearing. Crowds packed the courtroom with people having to sit on the floor and squeeze together in the remaining standing area! Journalists from RTE, the Irish Times, the Green News, and the Irish Examiner were there to cover the case. [If you click on each of the name news outlets above you will be brought to their respective reports about the opening day].

The organisers have extened thanks to all who came to the Four Courts and ensured there was a packed Courtroom 29 for the hearings. In an email distributed to supporters afterwards they wrote: “We have been so encouraged by the huge display of public support for this case. The atmosphere in the packed courtroom… was something really special.”

“Simply by being present, as ordinary citizens, shows how important this case is for all of us.”

The Plaintiffs are represented by O’Connell and Clarke Solicitors, Dublin, who were instructing Eoin McCullough SC – senior counsel and John Kenny BL – junior counsel.

Eoin McCullought SC presented compelling arguments in his opening submission. 

On behalf of FIE he quoted various scientific reports that demonstrate how grave the risks facing humanity are and how much Ireland is off course in the global fight against Climate Change.

Counsel emphasised that the facts being presented were also recognised and accepted by the Irish Government. They include the following:

  • There is a linear relationship between human activity and increasing global greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Each additional tonne of carbon emitted into the atmosphere exacerbates the problem of climate change;
  • The Earth has already warmed by over 1C compared to pre-industrial levels;
  • According to the IPCC, to keep global temperature rise well below 2C, Ireland needs to reduce our emissions by 25-40% by 2020 on 1990 levels;
  • Since the Paris agreement, it’s become clear that 2C is too dangerous. We need to pursue efforts to keep global temperatures well below 1.5C;
  • It is not enough for Ireland to pursue 80% carbon emission reductions by 2050 – it is the cumulative sum of emissions into our atmosphere that matters;
  • Short-term emission reductions are necessary to avoid the costs and risks associated with rising temperatures;
  • The effects of climate change are already observable on our climate system;
    Ireland has legal obligations under EU law to reduce our non-ETS sector (agriculture, transport, housing, and waste) emissions by 20% and our ETS sector (industry) by 25% by 2020 on 1990 levels;
  • Ireland’s own agencies have made clear that Ireland will not achieve these binding emission reduction targets.
Stop Climate Change – Photo reproduced with permission of FIE.

On Day 2 of the hearing, barristers representing Climate Case Ireland informed the Court that although the National Mitigation Plan is a living document, measures in the Plan have not been, and won’t be enough, to allow Ireland to meet its emission reduction targets in the short-term. The Climate Case Ireland barristers argued that this constitutes a breach of the Irish Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights, the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, and administrative law.

The ruling on this case will be fascinating and, hopefully, will be a landmark moment in Irish environmental history. To learn more about the case, and to read the concluding arguments of the plaintiffs and the State you can do so by visiting the website of Climate Case Ireland by clicking here.

When the Court ruling is made in the coming weeks, the SMA Communications Department will bring it to our readers.