Portuguese forest owner, French laundress, Romanian shepherd … families affected by global warming have seen their complaint against the EU's climate policy rejected, but they intend to continue this pioneering judicial fight on a European scale.
The EU Court of First Instance ruled the first-ever appeal of this kind at European level inadmissible, challenging in particular the admissibility of these individual applications.
“The action, inadmissible, is rejected,” concluded the decision, dated May 8 and consulted by AFP, reinforcing the arguments of the Council and the European Parliament.
This appeal was filed just one year ago, on May 24, 2018, by ten families from eight countries, from the Union but also Kenyan and Fijian, mostly living in agricultural and tourist activities, who were demanding EU to further reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Among them, a family from the Italian Alps who guide tourists on glaciers, or German restaurateurs of a North Sea island facing the rising waters. Or a Romanian shepherd forced to climb further into the mountains to feed his herd, and a Portuguese silviculturist who saw in 2017 his property destroyed by forest fires.
All were asking the court to cancel three directives regulating emissions from industrial sectors and member states.
But the European judge found that they did not meet the conditions of admissibility, namely that they were specific addressees of the legislation, or directly and individually concerned.
“It is true that every individual is probably affected in one way or another by climate change,” writes the judge. “However, the fact that the impacts may differ from person to person does not mean that there is a status to act against a measure of general application,” he adds, referring to national courts.
NGOs, including the Climate Action Network (RAC), the bearer of this case named “People's climate case”, have announced their intention to appeal to the European Court of Justice by mid-July.
– “disappointing but not surprising” –
“In addition to supporting climate change with new generations, this is the only thing I can do to protect my children and my grandchildren,” said Maurice Feschet, a 73-year-old French laundress. “I have to appeal this decision because unfortunately politicians are not able to take the necessary measures in favor of the climate.”
The Court “has every latitude to interpret the law differently and to initiate new legal developments, which the plaintiffs call their wishes,” say the NGOs, also noting that the trial judge has in any case underlined the reality of climate change and its impacts.
For climate advocates, this first decision is “disappointing but not surprising”, given the general difficulty of citizens to seize European justice.
A UN committee in 2017 pinned the EU, accused of not guaranteeing its citizens the right to go to court on environmental issues. Member States have since asked the Commission to evaluate these access conditions.
The remonstrance may help to move the jurisprudence of the Court, said the lawyer Antoine Le Dylio, co-editor of another complaint, “the Case of the century”, filed against the French State in the Paris court with the support of 2 million petitioners.
Litigation is increasing around the world, with rising temperatures and record GHG emissions. According to the Grantham Research Institute, more than 270 cases are pending in 25 jurisdictions outside the United States where litigation reaches more than 800 cases.
The EU is committed to reducing its emissions by 40% by 2030, compared to 1990.
The European Parliament has called for raising these targets to 55%. Ten states, including France, Spain and Belgium, called on all leaders to agree on carbon neutrality by 2050 and on raising the 2030 target to the June European Council.