5 global climate cases to watch

Source: By Jennifer Hijazi, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 22, 2020

It’s been a busy summer of climate battles in courts across the globe.

Judges around the world have been moving full steam ahead on challenges against big polluters and national governments as action in U.S. courts remains stymied amid lengthy procedural battles and divisive judicial nominations.

Last month, for example, a court in Poland issued a landmark ruling that forced the operator of a massive coal plant to work with environmentalists on plans to shutter the facility (Climatewire, Sept. 24).

That decision came on the heels of an Irish Supreme Court decision that called on government officials to scrap their climate mitigation plan and come up with better strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Climatewire, Aug. 3).

And young people in Mexico and Portugal last month filed two major climate actions that asked the courts to examine how 34 governments are violating their constitutional rights to a healthy climate (Climatewire, Sept. 8).

Here are the latest developments in five key international climate lawsuits:

Spain

A coalition of environmental organizations including Greenpeace Spain filed a lawsuit against the Spanish government Sept. 15, claiming that officials violated European law by imposing inadequate climate measures.

The groups say the government’s draft climate plans fall below recommended objectives laid out in the Paris Agreement, and they are asking the courts to compel Spain to do more on emissions reduction.

The Spanish Supreme Court allowed the case to proceed, and the government is set to respond to the allegations.

Brazil

Sixty-six scientists, Indigenous people, government officials and other experts gathered to testify in a two-day public hearing for Brazil’s first-ever climate case to hit the Supreme Federal Court last month.

The landmark “Climate Fund Case,” as it’s called, was brought by four Brazilian political parties that say the government needs to reactivate a stalled climate fund for sustainability projects (Climatewire, Aug. 19).

Justice Luís Roberto Barroso reportedly opened proceedings by assuring all sides their views would be heard, while acknowledging that climate change is “one of the most defining questions of our time.”

Australia

Young Australian citizens’ class-action lawsuit against the Whitehaven Vickery mine has drummed up more pressure on the country’s coal producers.

The young people filed the action in Australia’s Federal Court, requesting an injunction from the government to stop the coal mine.

The case is one of several climate actions filed by Australian youths since the summer.

Queensland youths filed a climate suit against Waratah Coal in May, which was followed by another action by a Melbourne student who claimed the government hasn’t adequately disclosed climate risks to national pension fund holders.

Great Britain

Heathrow Airport made a bid to the U.K. Supreme Court in arguments earlier this month to overturn a ruling that quashed an expansion to the airport on climate grounds.

Challengers of that ruling told the court the government was not legally bound to Paris Agreement goals that lower benches said officials should have considered.

The Court of Appeal in England ruled earlier this year that the U.K. government didn’t adequately account for climate impacts when it approved a third runway for one of the world’s busiest airports (Climatewire, Feb. 28).

Canada

Youth activists and government officials battled over government climate obligations in September arguments for the Vancouver, British Columbia, youth climate case La Rose et al. v. Her Majesty the Queen.

The young Canadians filed the case a year ago, claiming that, by failing to act on climate change, their government violated their rights to life and liberty under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Climatewire, Oct. 28, 2019).

Federal lawyers have argued the kids’ claims are too far-reaching because climate change is a global problem stemming partly from polluters outside Canada.