European court throws out climate lawsuit, saying plaintiffs are not unique

Ten families and the Swedish Saami people are set to appeal the judicial order, which found their rights were no more threatened than other individuals

Maurice Feschet says his family lavender farm in the south of France is suffering from increased climate disruption (Pic: People’s Climate Case)

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The European General Court has thrown out a lawsuit that pressed for stronger 2030 EU climate targets.

Ten families and an indigenous group filed the “People’s Climate Case” in May 2018, arguing the EU’s “inadequate” goal of 40% emissions cuts from 1990 levels threatened their human rights.

The court found the plaintiffs had not shown they were uniquely impacted by climate change and therefore did not satisfy the criteria for a substantive hearing.

The judges’ order said: “It is true that every individual is likely to be affected one way or another by climate change, that issue being recognised by the European Union and the Member States who have, as a result, committed to reducing emissions. However, the fact that the effects of climate change may be different for one person than they are for another does not mean that, for that reason, there exists standing to bring an action against a measure of general application.”

The plaintiffs were ordered to bear the EU’s costs for the case. The group, which is backed by NGOs Protect the Planet and Climate Action Network Europe, announced on Wednesday their intention to appeal to the European Court of Justice.

Lead lawyer Roda Verheyen said in a statement: “During the appeal procedure we will ask the European Court of Justice to look at the decision in the light of the facts of climate science and its human rights impacts we have shown in our application. This order cannot stand if the EU is serious about a ‘Europe for all’.”

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The plaintiffs, from six different EU countries, Kenya and Fiji, maintain that they face unique personal losses as a result of climate change and Europe’s policies fail to protect them. Portuguese forest owner Armando Carvalho lost trees in severe wildfires in 2017, while the Saami reindeer herders of Sweden say warming conditions threaten their whole way of life.

“Regardless of how the legal process continues, we are convinced that this lawsuit has already made a difference,” said German hoteliers Maike and Michael Recktenwald. “In all our countries where plaintiffs are involved, we have shown that the ongoing climate crisis is violating fundamental rights and that the EU must take action.”

The court’s decision, balancing as it does EU policies and their impact on citizens, may have a bearing on another climate case filed in March, which seeks to block EU support for wood burning as a renewable energy source.

Litigants released a statement in solidarity with the People’s Climate Case, while emphasising the direct impact biomass use has on their lives.

Scientific adviser Mary Booth said: “The EU biomass case identifies specific landowners, forests, and even religious sites that are being harmed by forest harvesting for biomass, and people whose health and quality of life is damaged by living near a biomass power plant. These direct harms to individuals are occurring, and will continue to occur, because the EU promotes burning forest biomass in power plants in the Renewable Energy Directive.”

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