Climate activists in Italy plan a lawsuit to force more climate actionItalian climate activists plan a lawsuit to force the government to adopt stronger emissions reduction plans. Photo credit: Simona Granati-Corbis/Getty Images
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By Kaitlin Sullivan

A coalition of nearly 50 Italian organizations announced it intends to sue the Italian government over what they allege is inadequate climate action by the country.

The coalition, Guidizio Universale, which translates to The Last Judgement, launched a campaign on Wednesday to garner support for and raise awareness of the suit, which it says it will file later this year.

“We are not yet disclosing the whole legal strategy, but the basis for the litigation is that the lack of ambition and efficacy of Italian climate policies is violating the population’s fundamental human rights,” said Cecilia Erba, an activist involved with the coalition.

The coalition is challenging the Italian government’s plans to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. Those plans were outlined in its 2017 National Energy Strategy and reiterated last December in the National Energy and Climate Plan.

Erba said the targets are not aggressive enough to sufficiently reduce fossil fuel emissions.

“We want to expose the inefficiency of Italian policies compared to what the scientific community says that we should be doing,” said Erba. “The point is that Italy hasn’t been reducing emissions enough in the past few years.”

The coalition announced its plans in the wake of the dismissal of the People’s Climate Case, a suit brought by 10 families and groups across eight countries, including Italy. In its decision, which was released in May, the European General Court ruled that because the threat of climate change impacts all people, not solely the plaintiffs, they did not have standing to sue. Khan said the ruling should not affect the planned Italian suit or climate change-related litigation against individual governments within the E.U.

Representatives from the coalition said they drew inspiration from other cases around the world, including Urgenda v. Netherlands and Juliana v. United States, the youth-led climate lawsuit against the U.S. government. A high-profile hearing to determine the fate of the suit, which was first filed in 2015, was held earlier this week in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A decision is expected in the coming months.

Italy’s climate policies drew harsh criticism last month from the European Climate Foundation, which gave the country a dismal 2.6 ranking of a possible 45 when considering the adequacy of its plans to reduce emissions and dependency on fossil fuel energy. Italy was one of six countries in the European Union that “provided only limited information, poorly describing their existing policies.” The foundation also noted that Italy had no clear plan to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.

Italy’s greenhouse gas emissions account for a small fraction of the global total and have been decreasing over the past decade, but the Italian courts’ ruling on the coming lawsuit could still be powerful on the global stage.

“Italy is part of the so-called developed countries that historically hold the most responsibility for global emissions, so should be in the lead of climate action,” said Erba.

The outcomes of similar climate cases being brought worldwide do not set a legally binding international precedent, but they do appear to have influence.

“This is a new wave of litigation that holds entire governments responsible for the warming trajectory we’re on due to the total lack of ambition of national governments,” said Tessa Khan, co-director of Climate Litigation Network, a project of the Urgenda Foundation. .

Khan pointed to a 2017 case in New Zealand in which the judge cited the Urgenda case, as well as Juliana v. United States. “Judges are clearly looking at what’s happening in other countries when they’re making their own decisions.”

Erba and other Guidizio Universale members have drawn inspiration from a string of recent climate lawsuits anchored in international human rights law, including the Urgenda case, in which the court ruled that the Dutch government must significantly reduce emissions to protect the human right to a livable climate, The Dutch government is currently appealing the ruling to The Netherlands’ Supreme Court.

A similar case was heard in January by Ireland’s High Court, where plaintiffs said the country’s National Mitigation Plan, which outlines plans to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels, is not aggressive enough. The plaintiffs also said the government’s acceptance of the plan violates the European Convention on Human Rights.

Guidizio Universale is echoing those charges, focusing on the effect climate change will have on the fundamental human rights of Italian citizens.

“The existing canon of recognized human rights are sufficient to anchor these claims,” said Khan.

A United Nations report in 2014 supported rights-based claims like those outlined by Guidizio Universale, confirming that human-driven climate change “directly and indirectly threatens the full and effective enjoyment of a range of human rights by people throughout the world, including the right to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture and development.”

“Italy is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, because of our geographic position in the Mediterranean area and the fragility of our territory,” said Erba. “For this reason, the Italian State should be especially concerned about protecting its people from climate change.”

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