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27th Nov 2021

EU court to hear citizens' climate case against EU

  • Petru Vlad (with hat) is one of the plaintiffs in the so-called People's Climate Case. 'Year by year, the temperatures are increasing.' (Photo: People's Climate Case)

A group of citizens suing the EU over climate change received good news this week when the European General Court accepted their case, which they have dubbed the 'People's Climate Case'.

The case was published in the Official Journal of the European Union on Monday (13 August) under the title 'Carvalho and Others v Parliament and Council'.

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  • A protest at the 2015 Paris climate conference, where a landmark treaty was signed. A group of citizens is now suing the EU for not complying with the Paris treaty (Photo: Peter Teffer)

"This case is about our common future and we are glad to be one step closer to be heard," said Portuguese plaintiff Armando Carvalho in a press statement.

"The wildfires destroyed my property in 2017. This year, we are once again struggling with massive heatwaves and wildfires in Europe," he said.

"We can not remain silent to this," he added.

Carvalho is joined by 36 others, the majority of them Europeans.

They demand that the court annuls three climate-related laws adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU – which represents national governments.

The laws are a directive on the EU's emissions trading system (ETS); a regulation on greenhouse gas emission reductions in sectors not covered by the ETS like agriculture and transport; and a regulation that governs how land and forest management is counted as neutralising emissions.

The three pieces of legislation are the EU's main legal response to achieve its 2030 climate targets, but the plaintiffs argued that the goals have been set too low to comply with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The 2030 climate and energy targets were set by EU leaders a year before the international UN climate treaty was signed in the French capital.

"The EU's existing 2030 climate target is too low to protect people and their fundamental rights," said Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, in a press statement.

"We firmly believe that this court case will prove that the climate target needs to be significantly raised to ensure a safe future for all of us."

CAN Europe is one of the non-governmental organisations that supports the case and handles its PR, including by having set up a slick website that presents the plaintiffs.

They are families from Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, and Romania. The Association of Young Saami from Sweden is also part of the plaintiffs, as are a family from Kenya and one from Fiji.

"Year by year, the temperatures are increasing," said Romanian plaintiff Petru Vlad on the website.

"There is no longer enough water for our cattle and sheep. I have to take my cattle from 700m altitude to 1400m for decent grass to graze, but especially for water. But I cannot go any further up with our herds, because above 2000m there is only the sky."

It is impossible to predict the plaintiffs' chances for victory.

There is one precedent which may give them hope: a similar case in EU member the Netherlands.

In 2015, a Dutch court said that the government had to "do more to avert the threatening danger caused by climate change".

What was unique about the Dutch ruling was that it was based on what scientists said would be necessary to limit global warming, rather than what was politically agreed.

The Dutch government however has appealed the verdict. A ruling is scheduled for 9 October.

CAN Europe meanwhile said Monday it expected the defendants – i.e. parliament and council – will respond in two months.

The three challenged climate acts were the result of years of negotiations, and it is likely that the EU institutions will resolutely defend the outcomes.

As of Wednesday morning, some 122,000 people have signed a petition expressing solidarity with the plaintiffs.

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