Individuals join growing global trend of citizens bringing climate change litigation in a bid to hold governments to account.

By Paul A. Davies and Michael D. Green

The European General Court has agreed to hear a legal challenge to EU climate legislation for inadequate targets for reducing climate change. Ten families from around the world brought a petition claiming that EU legislation offered insufficient protection, posing a threat to their human rights. The European Parliament (EP) and European Union Council (Council) likely will respond to the petition within approximately eight weeks.

The case is unprecedented in the EU. The 10 families include citizens from Kenya, Fiji, Portugal, Germany, France, Italy, Romania, and the Saami Youth Association Saminuorra (in Sweden). Significantly, though some of these individuals live outside the EU, they are claiming to have EU human rights. This is because the actions that they claim breach these rights take place in the EU, in particular, as a result of excessive greenhouse gas emissions. EU Member States are cumulatively the third largest global emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG).

The claimants state that EU emissions leading to climate change are contrary to:

  • The principle of equality (Articles 20 and 21, EU Charter)
  • The principle of sustainable development (Article 3 TEU, Article 11 TFEU)
  • Article 37 EU Charter
  • Article 3 UNFCCC
  • The no harm principle in international law
  • Article 191 TFEU (the EU’s environmental policy)

The families launched the petition in May after significant preparation. The petition demands that the EP and the Council annul the Emissions Trading System (ETS) Directive, the Effort Sharing Regulation, and the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry Regulation (LULUCF) Regulation. The petition claims that in order to protect their human fundamental rights to life, health, occupation, and property, the EU must increase the target of a 40% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 (compared with 1990 levels) to stop harmful climate change occurring.

The claimants have offered examples of the “worsening impacts of climate change”. These include a Portuguese claimant’s tree plantation that was destroyed in a forest fire. The claimants have also noted that large numbers of people died and others lost their homes this summer.

Lawyer, Roda Verheyen, who represents the families, commented the claimants have all the necessary evidence to demonstrate the effect on them and the EU’s potential to do more to decrease climate change.

This case is unique in relation to EU law, but represents part of a wider growing trend globally whereby citizens are attempting to hold governments to account by bringing climate change litigation. For example, in the United States, claimants in the Juliana v. US case stated that the US government’s affirmative actions breached the younger generation’s rights to life, liberty, and property granted by the constitution.

Latham will continue to monitor the progress of the case.

This blog was prepared with the assistance of Olivia Featherstone in the London office of Latham & Watkins.