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This Landmark Climate Case in Ireland Might Be ‘Huge' for the Rest of Europe Too

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On July 31, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that Ireland’s climate plans just weren’t good enough — as judged by the country’s very own standards.

It examined the Irish government’s 2017 National Mitigation Plan —  basically its roadmap to reducing greenhouse gases — and found that its targets were not specific enough.

It’s a case that may very well have “huge ramifications” beyond Ireland too, according to the group that brought the case.

The Friends of the Irish Environment organisation took the Irish government to court because it felt the reduction of greenhouse gases was an immediate emergency — but the government’s plan didn’t reflect that sense of urgency.

The Supreme Court found large parts of the plan “excessively vague or aspirational.” Indeed, the 2017 National Mitigation Plan even allowed for some increases in carbon emissions, according to the BBC.

The legal problem lay in how that plan contradicted previous legislation passed in 2015. While the National Mitigation Plan was left unclear on emissions targets, those other laws insisted that a very specific plan must be released. 

The Supreme Court declared that the 2017 National Mitigation Plan “fell well short of the specificity required” from the previous laws, and that they must be upheld. It overturned a previous High Court ruling in September 2019 at the highest possible judicial level.

The Irish government must now publish its objectives to detail how it will achieve its goal to hit net zero emissions by 2050, a target that means that the country will eventually contribute nothing to global warming as it emits less carbon than it takes out.

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"It shows governments have to do more to protect their citizens from the worst impact of the climate crisis,” said Clodagh Daly, a spokesperson for Friends of the Irish Environment. "We know that the transition to the low-carbon economy is technologically feasible — there is no legal basis for a lack of political will.”

"Governments around the EU [European Union] have no excuse now,” she added.

Meanwhile, the group’s director in Northern Ireland, James Orr, called the ruling a “wake up call.”

"Not only do we have a moral duty to stop the climate crisis but we now have a legal duty as well," Orr said. "The argument for decisive climate action has become a lot stronger as a result of this epic court case."

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It is just the second time ever that a country’s highest national court has challenged its own government to revise its climate policies. 

And a UN expert has predicted that the result in Ireland could have wide ranging consequences for climate justice everywhere, empowering activists to take on their leaders, demand greater ambition on how it tackles the climate crisis, and win.

“This landmark decision recognises the urgency of responding to the climate emergency and sets a precedent for courts around the world to follow,” said Dr. David R. Boyd, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights and the environment.

The BBC reports that the Irish government welcomed the ruling, saying it would "carefully examine the decision."