December 21, 2020

Ireland rethinks its climate action plan after supreme court ruling

Ireland Climate Plan

In 2019, the Irish environmental group Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) took the government of Ireland to court in what later was regarded as ‘Climate Case Ireland’. The hearing that extended for four days involved the FIE claiming that government representatives across Ireland had failed to meet their responsibilities in protecting residents from climate change.

The climate case gained significant attention and focused specifically on the government’s national mitigation plan, claiming that it did not meet the necessary emission reductions stated in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act. This year, the FIE appealed against Ireland’s National Mitigation Plan, claiming it was unjust and resulted in the Supreme Court nullifying the government plan for reducing carbon emissions. After detailed studies of the 2017 plans, judged decided that that measures did not meet the requirements of the mentioned activities and that a new plan was required. 

For the FIE, a revision of how the Irish Government would specifically achieve its goal of delivering a low carbon and climate-resilient nation was a massive result. The recent launch of the Climate Action Bill 2020 includes a far more comprehensive assessment of the path for the government to reach its intended emission goals. Within the new legislation, Ireland will be committed to reaching carbon neutrality within the next 30 years. While the bill has been criticised by some groups for lacking ambitious targets, the legislature will ensure Ireland commits to delivering and following a long term climate action plan.

Climate Case Ireland represents a wake-up call for other nations. It highlights to other governments and their associated members that inactivity towards climate change can be challenged legally. The successful outcome of the case in Ireland will enable a path for additional action to be taken against other governments failing to show a clear commitment towards climate change. 

As nations refocus their efforts towards the Paris Agreement, climate change litigation will inevitably become an increasingly important part of the wider process. A recent report by Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Ireland’s performance on addressing the challenge of climate change needs significant improvement. Data suggests that emissions in Ireland have increased by 10% over the 1990 levels. The EPS explains that unless Ireland implements a clearer and stricter plan, emissions are unlikely to decline by more than 6% over the next ten years. For a nation where over 90% of energy consumption comes from fossil fuels, Climate Case Ireland creates a precedent for other climate governance in the coming years. Requiring Ireland to rethink its Climate Action Plan could yield significant benefits for future generations.