Supreme Court Day 1!

“Nobody will refreeze the ice sheets. Nobody will get water levels back down”. – Eoin McCullough, Senior Counsel, Friends of the Irish Environment

After three years, today we brought our case against the Irish government’s failure to take climate action to the Supreme Court. 

Except, well… it wasn’t actually in the Supreme Court.

To allow for social distancing, our appeal was heard by seven Supreme Court Judges in the dining hall of the King’s Inns, the oldest school of law in Ireland. (Take a small glance at what it was like here.)

We missed you there! The atmosphere certainly wasn’t the same without the gathering of supporters at the High Court hearing and High Court judgment, but it was still really exciting. Seven of our team members, equipped with masks and disinfectant gel, filed into the ornate dining hall to hear Senior Counsel for Friends of the Irish Environment present our appeal to the panel of judges. Proceedings lasted just four hours!

Tomorrow we’ll hear counter-arguments from State’s Senior Counsel, then our Senior Counsel will have 45 minutes to respond. 

The judgment will not be issued tomorrow – that will likely take some time, but we will keep you posted!

Follow our TwitterFacebook and Instagram for updates!

Find below coverage of today’s proceedings as well as a summary of what our Senior Counsel presented to the court.

Thank you so much for your incredible support! 

Articles and media reports:

“We can stand with the people in this fight for the most basic of human rights, a safe place to live. We can take this principled stand and turn our laggard of a country around. By doing so we’ll be reaching into the future to help those who need it – and God knows they will.
– Read Maeve Higgins’ wonderful piece in support of our case here

‘Climate Governance and Fundamental Rights before the Supreme Court’ read Dr. Aine Ryall’s piece in the Royal Irish Academy here 

Irish Examiner:

Irish Independent:

Irish Times:

Summary of the day

Senior Counsel for Friends of the Irish Environment, Eoin McCullough, presented the following arguments:

  • What lies at the heart of this case is the urgency of action on climate change. This case is about Ireland’s responsibility in particular. If we do not reduce emissions rapidly within the next couple of years, we face catastrophic runaway climate change
  • Although the respondents consistently insist otherwise, Friends of the Irish Environment doesn’t insist on imposing policy.
  • Friends of the Irish Environment simply contend that the creation of a National Mitigation Plan which permits an increase in Ireland’s emissions is a breach of human rights
  • The respondent hasn’t disagreed with a word of the outcome. There is no dispute concerning the facts of greenhouse gas emissions, no dispute about the effects of those gases, no dispute about climate change, and no dispute about the need to move early to achieve sharp reductions. Yet Ireland has consistently failed to take adequate action to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, and the National Mitigation Plan fails to provide emissions reductions in short and medium term
  • The Climate Change Advisory Council, an independent advisory body established under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, strongly criticized the National Mitigation Plan, warning that Ireland is ‘completely off course in achieving its 2020 and 2030 targets,’ and is unlikely to achieve national, EU and international emission reduction obligations
  • Instead of decreasing its emissions 25-40% by 2020 as the Irish government has repeatedly accepted is necessary, Ireland’s emissions will have increased by 11-12% compared to 1990, according to Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency
  • Ireland has already missed its 2020 emission reduction targets, and on the current trajectory is set to miss its 2030 targets too
  • The State hasn’t engaged with the consequences of its actions – namely of blowing the carbon budget and reaching tipping points – nor has the State demonstrated how it is responsible for the consequences of its policies, including: how it will realistically reduce emissions at a later point, and why it hasn’t reduced emissions in the short term, even though it accepts the science. 
  • The economic imperative to reduce emissions in the short-term
  • ‘Non-justiciability’ of the National Mitigation Plan (this means it cannot be legally contested) – McCullough contended that the ‘Separation of powers’ (between the Court and the government) does not protect the State when it has failed in its constitutional duty 
  • Standing – McCullough argued that this case is brought in the interest of protecting concerned Irish citizens’ rights, and is in the general public interest. Friends of the Irish Environment should therefore have a right to bring this case.
  • Citizens’ Constitutional rights, including the right to life and bodily integrity, are threatened by climate change. The unenumerated right to an environment consistent with human dignity is a corollary of the right to life, and has already been recognized in many other countries, including India’s Supreme Court
  • Human rights protected under the European Convention on Human Rights, including the right to life, family life and the private life, and home are violated by the government’s failure to take action on climate change in the short-term.
With deep thanks to all of you who have supported this case through the past three years. We would never have made it without you.

Climate Case Team