By Dana Drugmand
The People’s Climate Case was dismissed in May by the European General Court, which based its decision on a narrow interpretation of the planitiffs’ standing. The court said that the families, which come from France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Romania, Kenya, and Fiji and the Saami Youth Association, could not bring the suit because climate change affects everyone and did not cause them any specific harm. They filed their appeal on Thursday.
“The European General Court denied to provide access to justice for the families and young people hit by the devastating impacts of climate change, essentially because there are many other people hit by the climate crisis. This simply disrespects the very rationale of fundamental rights, which is to grant protection to every single person,” said Roda Verheyen, lead attorney for the plaintiffs.
The appeal challenges the court’s limited interpretation of “direct and individual concern,” a standard that says plaintiffs must demonstrate they are directly harmed for the case to be considered admissible. Although the families detailed how they are individually and directly impacted by climate change, the court accepted the EU’s argument that the impacts are not unique because climate change affects everyone.
Defendants include the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. They must provide a written response to the appeal within two months. The European Court of Justice will then decide whether to accept the appeal, allow for further written exchange, or dismiss it.
The case, first filed in May 2018, argues that the EU’s target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 is inadequate and fails to protect citizens’ fundamental rights. The plaintiffs say that more ambitious action is needed to slash emissions and protect their human rights to life, health, occupation and property. The complaint documents how the climate crisis is already disrupting the plaintiffs’ livelihoods, which are all tied to the land.
“Heat waves followed by heavy rain, hail and storms are destroying our crops. Glacier melting is affecting all tourism activities and hostelry in my region. Today, I can hardly take care of my family and can’t guarantee a safe future for my daughters,” said plaintiff Giorgio Elter, an Italian farmer and hotel owner.
Last month, EU leaders failed to reach agreement on reducing emissions to net zero by 2050 due to opposition by coal-reliant states like Poland. Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations supporting the People’s Climate Case, is calling on the EU to not only increase its 2030 climate target, but to commit to net zero emissions by 2040.
“The EU must recognize that today’s climate crisis is the biggest threat to citizens’ human rights and act in great urgency to protect lives, livelihoods and human rights of millions of people,” said Wendel Trio, director of CAN-Europe.
Plaintiff Maurice Feschet, a French lavender farmer affected by persistent droughts and heat waves, said that courts must step in when political leaders fail to protect human rights.
“EU leaders are still turning a blind eye to the climate crisis while citizens are suffering more and more from extreme heat waves, droughts and forest fires,” he said. “Courts who are responsible to provide legal protection for citizens when the decision makers let us down, should not underestimate human rights implications of the ongoing climate crisis. They should take our claim seriously and start fixing the failure of the EU governments.”