Top EU Court Rejects Push for Stricter Emissions Rules

The lawsuit seeking tighter regulations on emissions was brought by families from Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Kenya and Fiji, as well as a Swedish association representing indigenous people.

A demonstrator holds a terrestrial globe in Lisbon during a worldwide protest demanding action on climate change in 2019. (AP Photo/Armando Franca, File)

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — The European Union’s highest court has rejected a climate change lawsuit brought by families from around the world on the grounds that they aren’t individually affected by EU climate policies. 

The families, joined by an association representing indigenous people based in Sweden, wanted the EU to increase greenhouse gas emission reduction targets from 30% of 1990 levels to 50-60%, but the European Court of Justice found Thursday that a lower court was right to toss out the lawsuit in 2019. 

“The General Court was…fully entitled to find that, since the appellants did not have standing to bring proceedings to request partial annulment of the legislative package, their claim for compensation, which in reality seeks to achieve the same result, must also be declared inadmissible,” the ECJ’s Sixth Chamber wrote. 

Known as the People’s Climate Case, the group brought their suit in 2018, arguing that the EU’s response to climate change was insufficient to protect their right to life and health. The families are from Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Kenya and Fiji.

“It is true that every individual is likely to be affected one way or another by climate change, that issue being recognized by the European Union and the member states who have, as a result, committed to reducing emissions,” the European General Court, the EU’s second-highest court, found in 2019.

But the court went on to say that everyone will be impacted by climate change differently and therefore the group could not pursue its case. 

On appeal, the families and the Swedish association, Sáminuorra, argued that the lower court hadn’t taken into consideration the specific characteristics of those bringing the case. The families are all involved with tourism or agriculture and say their livelihoods have been greatly affected by the increasing global temperature. 

On Thursday, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice found that the General Court was correct in its decision under the so-called Plaumann criteria. The court ruled in 1963 in Plaumann & Co. v Commission that cases can only be brought if the claimant is “individually concerned” and their circumstances must differentiate them from other people. 

“This decision was made on purely procedural grounds,” Roda Verheyen, a lawyer for the group, said in a press conference following the decision.

Her colleague, Gerd Winter, went further, telling journalists, “The major concern of the court is to ensure that too many people do not bring cases before the court. There must be a readjustment of the admissibility criteria.” 

The ruling is final and cannot be appealed. 

Last year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen laid out a 1 trillion euro ($1.1 trillion) investment plan to make the EU economy more green over the next 10 years. Dubbed the Green Deal, it aims to make Europe the world’s first carbon-neutral continent by 2050.

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