Ireland's Climate Mitigation Plan Upheld In Landmark Challenge

Author:Ms Rhoda Jennings and Helena Murphy
Profession:Ronan Daly Jermyn

Friends of the Irish Environment v The Government of Ireland

The High Court has ruled in favour of the Irish government following a challenge taken by Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) over the former's alleged failure to tackle climate change.1 Mr Justice Michael MacGrath, delivering the judgment on 21 September 2019, refused to quash Ireland's National Mitigation Plan and remit it to the government for redrafting, as demanded. The case forms an important part of a growing body of recent litigation in which courts throughout the world have had to grapple with the science of climate change.2 It is the first of this kind in Ireland and its progress has attracted an overwhelming amount of public interest at a time when there is ever-greater evidence of the need to tackle climate change. The case itself was heard in January 2019 and an account of the proceedings can be found in a previous Insights by the same authors.3

The National Mitigation Objective

The High Court was asked to judicially review Ireland's National Mitigation Plan ('the Plan'). FIE argued that the Plan breaches the Climate Change and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 4 ('the 2015 Act') and, in failing to set Ireland on a course of necessary decarbonisation in order to prevent the worst effects of climate change, violates human rights. The Act requires the Government to approve a mitigation plan which will enable Ireland to transition to a "low carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy" by 2050. The Act does not define these objectives in substantive terms, a point which was noted in the court's judgment. However, in considering the Plan, the Government must have regard to Ireland's climate change obligations under EU and international law.

Inadequacies of the National Mitigation Plan

In January, the court heard that Ireland has the third highest per-capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU and is set to miss its 2020 reduction targets by a considerable margin. In fact, its emissions are projected to increase between 1990 and 2020 by at least 7.5-10%. FIE highlighted the weaknesses of the Plan and concluded that it is not calculated to achieve emissions reductions required for the transition to a low-carbon economy by 2050. It noted that the Paris Agreement requires developed countries, including Ireland, to achieve emission reductions of 25-40% by 2020 and 80-95% by 2050 in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change.5 In the absence...

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