The European Union dodged a climate change suit filed by 10 familiesThe European Council and European Union Parliament cannot be sued by individuals to force stronger climate action, a court ruled Tuesday. Photo credit: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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By Karen Savage

Despite recognizing that climate change affects everyone, a European court dismissed a case filed by 10 families and groups in eight countries, ruling they did not have standing because they did not show climate change harmed them specifically.

The suit known as the People’s Climate Case, filed by families from Portugal, Germany, France, Italy, Romania, Kenya and Fiji and a youth association in Sweden, was dismissed by the European General Court on Tuesday.

In the suit, filed last year against the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, the families alleged that EU’s targets to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions are inadequate and will not prevent dangerous climate change and or protect their fundamental rights to life, health, occupation and property. The EU aims to reduce emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The plaintiffs also demanded that three regulatory acts designed to reach those target be nullified until a more stringent target was set.

The defendants did not argue the merits of the case, but maintained that legal recourse was not available through the court because the threat of climate change is pervasive and common to all people, not just the plaintiffs. That made the case inadmissible.

The court agreed, ruling that the plaintiffs did not establish that the emission targets and the regulatory acts based on those targets “infringed on their fundamental rights and distinguished them individually” from others who are affected by climate change.

“It is true that every individual is likely to be affected one way or another by climate change,” the court said in its ruling. “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.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs had argued that the court should rule on the substance of the case before addressing the issue of admissibility. They plan to appeal.

“The case is not dismissed on the merits. On the contrary, the court accepts that climate change is impacting everybody but refrains to engage with the facts of climate change and its human rights impacts,” plaintiffs’ attorney Roda Verheyen said.  

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 an ‘Europe for all.’”

It is difficult for citizens to gain access to European courts. In the appeal to the European Court of Justice, the plaintiffs will argue the families and youth group do  have the required standing.

“In our legal case, we are not asking for money or compensation,” said Giorgio Elter, an Italian mountain farmer, father and plaintiff, who wants urgent action on climate change and he worries about his daughters’ future.

“We already feel the devastating consequences of climate change,” said Elter. “This will become unbearable if the politicians keep delaying concrete actions.”

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