Irish Climate Change Plan Struck Down by Court- “Not enough detail”
The Paris Agreement of 2015 represented a major effort by the international community to curb the damaging effects of greenhouse-gas emissions and keep the increase in global average temperature below 2˚c. With 188 states having become party to the agreement, representing more than 97% of all greenhouse-gas emissions, it represented a significant step in collective action against one of the greatest existential threats faced by humankind.
In the ensuing five years, state parties have begun to implement their obligations, mostly through the use of some form of a national plan. In the Republic of Ireland, this plan is called the National Mitigation Plan, and it has recently been subject to a challenge in the courts which, last week, lead to it being quashed by the Irish Supreme Court. The challenge was brought by Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), who contended the adoption of the plan on several grounds.
The first limb of the challenge was that the plan failed to adequately take into account rights guaranteed by the Irish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. On these grounds, the Court found against them, on the basis that as a corporate body, they did not personally enjoy those rights, and therefore lacked standing to challenge alleged breaches.
For consultation professionals, the more interesting grounds were the others, where it was found that the plan did not give sufficient detail as to how the Irish Government planned to meet their carbon targets by the end of 2050. Although the Court recognised that more distant plans might have less detail than imminent ones, they deemed that the plan had to have sufficient information for the public to know how the Government of the day would plan to meet the targets. One of the key parts of the decision was, in the words of the Chief Justice, that “…there is a clear statutory policy involving public participation in the process”.
In light of the fact that the statute mandating the creation of the plan provides for a significant national consultation when plans are being formulated, it seems that it might be back to the drawing board, and back to the people for the Irish Government. Another notable judicial treatment here was of the nature of the plan itself. The plan, it was said, was not merely a series of discrete five-year plans covering the period between 2017 (when the plan was adopted) and 2050, but instead was envisaged in the legislation as a series of rolling plans, being substantively updated every five years to recognise changes in technology, knowledge and other circumstances. Given the extensive expectation of consultation and transparency in the process of coming to plans, it will be interesting to see how the Irish Government proceeds, and what amendments they make to the plan.