The unregulated climate-destruction is often called “a crime against humanity”, yet the silence of our courts has been a decade-long mystery. This is changing fast now as more and more climate rights activists come out of court chambers with their arms up and big smiles on their faces. Court after court is now ruling that current climate laws are insufficient, violating rights and unfairly burdening the youth and future generations.
To comply with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C degree goal, there is barely any carbon budget left. Regardless, companies, banks and governments have continued to ignore this ever since the Agreement was signed in 2016, or they have done a bit of greenwashing and delivered a few airy-fairy promises just to keep everyone quiet.
In Europe, people-driven movements have taken their governments’ inaction to court, and after years of contemplation and procrastination, the courts are now finally beginning to knock both governments and fossil fuel companies in place.
Not long ago it was the Netherlands’ government that had to surrender to the country’s own court after which, among other things, a national carbon tax was rolled out.
In France, a court convicted the French state of failing to address the climate crisis and not keeping its promises to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. Billed the “Affair of the Century”, the legal case was brought by four French environmental groups after a petition signed by 2.3 million people.
Then it was Germany’s turn: The Merkel government had to surrender and immediately increase Germany’s 2030 goals from 55 per cent to now 65 per cent with further goals of climate neutrality now already in 2045. “It is a historic decision for the climate and for the young generation,” wrote German Minister of Economy Peter Altmaier on Twitter. Die Welt noted that the government has lost power to decide its climate policy for themselves. The government now needs to deliver increasingly tight and faster intervention.
Last year, we saw the Portuguese government surrender to the court in a similar manner.
Climate rights: the universal right to life and security
And now, drumroll… in the Netherlands, for the first time in history, a judge has held a corporation liable for causing dangerous climate change. A court in The Hague ruled that the oil company Shell must halve its carbon emissions within the next nine years. The court ruled that Shell is responsible for emissions from its customers and suppliers, and further that Shell’s activities constituted a threat to the “right to life” and “undisturbed family life,” as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.
This historic verdict has enormous consequences for Shell and other big polluters globally. It is the first time ever that a fossil fuel major has been held to account for its impact on our planet’s climate.
The consequence of this European ruling for us in Geelong should be changing how we talk about Viva Energy and its climate-wrecking operations. Just like Shell, Viva can and must be held accountable for being a threat to our “right to life” and our “right to security of person” as it is set in Article 3 of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
Meanwhile in Australia, a court ruled that this country’s environment minister has an obligation to children over climate change as part of her decision-making in approving the expansion of a new coal mine. This was the first time in the world that such a duty of care has been recognised, especially in a common law country:
2 JULY 2021 UPDATE:
French court ruling: Government must act
A Paris court has found France legally responsible for its failure to meet targets intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
→ Edie Newsroom – 2 July 2021:
‘Landmark ruling’: French Government ordered to align with climate targets within nine months
“France’s top administrative court has condemned the Government’s failure to comply with the Paris Agreement and fight global warming, giving it nine months to get in line with the climate objectives it signed up to.”
The court ruling found that the Australian Environment Minister has a duty to protect young people from catastrophic climate harm. Here is an excerpt from the court ruling:
Sharma by her litigation representative Sister Marie Brigid Arthur v Minister for the Environment  FCA 560 – court papers, 207 pages
“NEGLIGENCE – representative proceeding seeking a declaration that a duty of care be recognised and an injunction be granted restraining its breach – Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) – novel duty of care – whether the Minister for the Environment owes Australian children a duty of care when approving under s 130 and s 133 of the EPBC Act the extraction of coal from a coal mine – risk of injury from climate change – claim that CO2 emissions from coal to be extracted will contribute to increased global surface temperatures leading to extreme weather events and consequent exposure of Australian children to the increased risk of personal injury, property damage and economic loss – discussion of applicable legal principles for ascertaining whether a novel duty of care exists – salient features approach adopted – whether feared harm reasonably foreseeable – whether the Minister has control, responsibility and knowledge in relation to foreseeable harm – extent of children’s vulnerability to feared harm – whether recognised relationships between Minister and children exist including by reference to parens patriae doctrine – discussion of coherence in the law – whether imposition of liability in negligence is incoherent with statutory discretion provided to Minister under s 130 and s 133 of the EPBC Act to approve or not approve extension of coal mine – whether incoherence with principles of administrative law – whether potential liability indeterminate – whether other policy considerations tend against a duty of care being recognised – duty of care recognised but only in relation to the avoidance of personal injury to the children
INJUNCTION – principles for grant of quia timet injunction discussed – whether reasonable apprehension of breach of duty of care established – whether extent of restraint justified – injunction refused
BROMBERG J – 27 MAY 2021″
Court catchwords summary – from www.judgments.fedcourt.gov.au
“Shell, half your emissions!”
“This is a landmark victory for climate justice and will impact Shell’s operations globally, including here in Australia by requiring their business to be in line with global carbon targets. Our hope is that this verdict will trigger a wave of climate litigation against big polluters, to force them to stop extracting and burning fossil fuels.”
~ Sam Cossar, Friends of the Earth Australia
→ Friends of the Earth – 27 May 2021:
Historic victory: judge forces Shell to drastically reduce CO2 emissions globally
Making ecocide a crime
French President Emmanuel Macron and Pope Francis both have stated that they see ecocide is an offense that poses a similar threat to humanity as genocide. Pope Francis describes ecocide as “the massive contamination of air, land and water” or “any action capable of producing an ecological disaster.” The Pope has proposed making ecocide a sin for Catholics, endorsing a campaign by environmental activists and legal scholars to make it the fifth crime before the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
→ Inside Climate News – 7 April 2021:
As the Climate Crisis Grows, a Movement Gathers to Make ‘Ecocide’ an International Crime Against Humanity
“International lawyers, environmentalists, and a growing number of world leaders say that ‘ecocide’ – widespread destruction of the environment – would serve as a ‘moral red line’ for the planet.”
Climate rights hashtag status
The hashtag #ClimateRights has so far been used in fewer than 1,000 posts on Facebook and gives 430 search results in Google.
In comparison, #ClimateJustice has been used in 124,000 Facebook posts and gives 224,000 search results in Google.
#HumanRights has been used in 2,700,000 Facebook posts and gives 218,000,000 search results in Geelong.
“When governments fail to protect people from harm it is important that we know our rights, and how our legal system can help to deliver justice. As climate change increasingly causes direct harm to people and nature, communities around the world are turning to courts and legal systems to seek justice and compensation, and to defend their rights to a safe climate. This is leading to a growing trend of climate cases covering human rights and corporations law.”
~ The Conservation Council of Western Australia
Yearnings of the youth: is climate justice the new super weapon to push reductions?
State of Green, a Danish parnership between government and a group of private associations, wrote in their newsletter on 12 May 2021:
‘Climate hesitancy is an unfair burden on future generations. By hook or by crook, actions must ensure that climate justice is a fundamental right to all’. The historic move on 29 April 2021, when the German High Court handed the youth a decisive victory in the fight for climate change, armed climate campaigners all over the world with new ammunition: constitutional climate rights.
The blow to German’s climate law is a clear reflection of the intensified voice of the people, particularly the youth. Demands for greater climate measures are increasingly led by young people expressing their dissatisfaction with governments’ (in)actions to reduce emissions and combat global warming. Not only are they striking, campaigning and taking Fridays off school, young people all over the world are now taking their countries to court over climate inaction. And as they gather momentum, a French court conviction for failure to address climate change in February, and the new ruling in Germany may be the needed firepower to deliver a potent punch from beneath.
The recent ruling states that Germany’s current climate law “violates the freedom of the complainants, some of whom are still very young, because it irreversibly offloads major emission reduction burdens on to periods after 2030.”
In prompt reply, the government declared to aim for climate neutrality as early as 2045. The new target, which also includes a proposal to reduce emissions by 65 per cent by 2030 and introduces a new 88 per cent reduction target by 2040, pulls forward Germany’s previous target by five years. A significant bow to the yearnings of the youth.
Just two days later, Denmark also geared up by announcing a more ambitious climate target. The new indicative target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50-54 per cent in 2025 acts as an assurance of increased pace and prompt action. The target is part of the Denmark’s Climate Act, which in the same vein came to effect after a green wave of young voters at the Danish elections in 2019.
With the renewed mandate to move, the public push for greater reductions is likely to strike with even greater force as we move towards a greener Europe.
|6 JUNE 2021|
STATE OF GREEN WEEKLY:
Stunned by climate blitz, oil majors forced to embrace a new normal
“Last week marked a rude awakening for the big energy companies. At Exxon Mobil, stock investors overruled the management to appoint climate-minded board members in replacement of two current directors. At Chevron, shareholders’ rebuke led a majority call for the company to cut emissions from the end-use of its fuels. In the Netherlands, the civil court ruled that Shell must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent compared to 2019 levels by 2030. The case led by 17,000 Dutch citizens marks the first time a company has been legally obliged to align its policies with the Paris Agreement.
To no avail for Big Oil, a week of remarkable reversals comes in the wake of another strike from the International Energy Agency. In their latest flagship report this May, the agency concluded that getting the world on a net-zero path by 2050 means putting an end to new oil and gas fields. Mildly said, the blow to the boardrooms is a watershed moment for the energy sector at large. By popular demand, sustainability is the new normal.
Now, the big unknown is what it all entails to short-term policies. As the whole sector grapples with the challenge of moving from fossil fuels to renewables, Denmark provides an inciting case for the ride ahead. In 1974, the Danish Oil and Natural Gas Company was established as a 100 per cent state-owned energy company. In 2006, after a merger of six power companies, the company’s portfolio was 85 per cent based on fossil fuels, making it one of the most coal-intensive companies in Europe, and responsible for around one third of Danish emissions. In 2019, just two years after the name change to Ørsted, a new green business model led to a portfolio of 90 per cent renewables and a doubled market capitalisation. For the third consecutive time, Ørsted this year received the label as the world’s most sustainable energy company.
In sharing inspiration on the transition ahead, Danish Energy Agency and State of Green just released a new report deep diving into the green shift and the regulatory framework that made it possible.
Download “From Black to Green: A Danish Sustainable Energy Growth Story” here.“
Magnus Højberg Mernild
Editor, State of Green Weekly
The climate lawsuit of the century
By Nick Flynn – Avaaz
Six kids have seen the future, and they are terrified. Raging wildfires scorched entire forests in their country to nothing, killing 120 people.
As heatwaves spiralled out of control, Cláudia, Catarina, Martim, Sofia, André and Mariana watched in horror the ongoing reality of climate chaos inch closer to home than ever.
But they’re refusing to have their fate sealed — and are doing something extraordinary!
Together, they’re taking 33 major governments to one of the world’s most powerful courts. If they win, all those countries could be legally forced to slash their carbon emissions.
This trial could change the world. But the kids need our urgent help.
Right now, they’re facing a HUGE army of government lawyers and after months of fundraising, they just don’t have enough to land the win our planet needs. But if we all chip in just a small amount, we could help supercharge their team of lawyers, and run ground-breaking research to help prove the case.
This trial isn’t just about carbon emissions — it’s about the world our children and grandchildren will inherit.
The European Court of Human Rights is very selective about the cases it will hear — and yet judges are even fast-tracking this one. That’s how critically important this is.
Because climate change is a severe threat to our fundamental human rights — and the crisis has never been more urgent.
2020 is now officially the joint-hottest year ever recorded: a year of runaway wildfires, surging floods, and glaciers vanishing before our eyes. The world is shuddering and this great temple of life is on the edge. We must act now.
For years we’ve been calling for real climate action. This is our chance to force it — so let’s help these kids win! If enough of us chip in, we could:
Massively expand and strengthen the legal team to assist attorneys with the trial;
Fund ground-breaking research to show how governments are harming our children’s futures;
Recruit legal aides and researchers to analyse the landslide of documents that government lawyers will submit in days, and;
Raise the profile of the trial everywhere by unleashing our best media and campaigning firepower.
It’s crazy that youngsters should have to do any of this — but if we all rush to back them, we could win a massive victory for the planet and all of humanity! This is the trial for life on Earth, and it’s about to start — donate what you can now:
These kids didn’t cause climate change, but the current path we’re on could rob their generation, their children and grandchildren of their future — unless we do something. Time and again, our movement has fought to protect the planet. And we’ve made magic happen — helping to win the Paris climate agreement, protecting huge tracts of threatened habitat, and standing behind fearless indigenous communities as they defend life on Earth. Now as children rise to take up the charge, let’s all lift them up, together.
With endless hope and determination,
Nick, Ruth, Marigona, Mike, Martyna, Patri, Aloys, Mo and the rest of the Avaaz team
PS. This might be your first donation to our movement ever. But what a first donation! Did you know that Avaaz relies entirely on small donations from members like you? That’s why we’re fully independent, nimble and effective. Join the over 1 million people who’ve donated to make Avaaz a real force for good in the world.
Does Climate Change Violate Children’s Human Rights? A European Court May Soon Decide (TIME)
Kids suing governments about climate: It’s a global trend (National Geographic)
European court orders countries to respond to lawsuit from young climate activists (DW)
Youth Four Climate Justice
|Avaaz is a 65-million-person global campaign network that works to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people shape global decision-making. (“Avaaz” means “voice” or “song” in many languages.) Avaaz members live in every nation of the world; our team is spread across 18 countries on 6 continents and operates in 17 languages. Learn about some of Avaaz’s biggest campaigns here, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.|
“In a landmark action submitted to the United Nations, eight claimants say the Australian government has violated their fundamental human rights by failing to adequately address climate change.”
→ The Sydney Morning Herald – 14 June 2021:
United Nations set to decide climate claims by Torres Strait Islanders against Australia
“A group called the Torres Strait 8 have lodged a complaint with the United Nations against the federal government, accusing it of breaching their rights to culture and life by failing to adequately address climate change.”
What this fight is really about
“There was a major explosion and fire in a coal-burning power station in Queensland, which caused the whole station to shut down. About 470,000 customers lost power. It follows 326 breakdowns from coal-burning power stations over the past four years.
Burning coal is the number one cause of the climate crisis. And this big blackout proves that coal is also an unreliable and volatile source of electricity.
But Australia’s biggest climate polluter AGL wants to keep running two of their polluting coal-burning power stations for years to come, including running one out to 2048. That’s what this fight is really about. Dirty coal vs renewable energy. The past vs future. A climate crisis vs a safe climate.”
~ Glenn, Greenpeace Australia Pacific
→ BBC News – 27 May 2021:
Shell: Netherlands court orders oil giant to cut emissions
“A court in the Netherlands has ruled in a landmark case that the oil giant Shell must reduce its emissions.”
→ The Guardian – 27 May 2021:
‘Cataclysmic day’ for oil companies sparks climate hope
“Court and investor defeats over carbon emissions a historic turning point, say campaigners and lawyers.”
→ The Guardian – 27 May 2021:
Australian court finds government has duty to protect young people from climate crisis
“Eight teenagers, along with 86-year-old nun, launched case to prevent the approval of a massive coalmine.”
→ Forbes – 26 May 2021:
‘Monumental Victory’: Shell Oil Ordered To Limit Emissions In Historic Climate Court Case
“Environmental campaigners in the Netherlands and around the world are celebrating today after a court in The Hague ordered oil firm Royal Dutch Shell to cut its carbon emissions, in a first-of-its-kind case that pitted climate activists against an oil giant.”
→ Friends of the Earth Netherlands – 26 May 2021:
Historic victory: judge forces Shell to drastically reduce CO2 emissions
“For the first time in history, a judge has held a corporation liable for causing dangerous climate change.”
→ The Guardian – 7 May 2021:
The young people taking their countries to court over climate inaction
“Children and young adults around the world are demanding action from governments on global heating and the ecological crisis.”
→ The Guardian – 4 February 2021:
Court convicts French state for failure to address climate crisis
“State found guilty of ‘non-respect of its engagements’ aimed at fighting global warming:”
Stop fossil fuel pollution: clean air, water, and soil are basic human rights
This really shouldn’t be complicated – people should have the ability to keep toxic fossil fuels out of their communities and their homes. The time for a just transition to clean, renewable energy is now.
And yet, governments and corporations across the globe are investing in fossil fuel infrastructure that threatens our right to a healthy environment and shutting down resistance efforts.
Whether it’s state legislatures in the U.S. passing laws that block local fracking or gas bans, provincial authority that prevents most Canadian cities from directly electrifying buildings, mega-oil corporations trampling Indigenous rights in the Amazon, or coal plants cropping up near cities in Southeast Asia, people’s right to clean air, water, and soil is under threat.
The SAFE Cities movement is uniting people from all walks of life and helping them push back against the expansion of fossil fuels and fast-track the just transition to a clean energy future.