High Court can't 'second guess' Government over climate policy

The High Court has ruled that it cannot “second guess” the Government over its climate policy...
Michael Staines
Michael Staines

16.25 19 Sep 2019

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High Court can't 'second guess' Government over climate policy

Michael Staines
Michael Staines

16.25 19 Sep 2019

Share this article

The High Court has ruled that it cannot “second guess” the Government over its climate policy.

This afternoon, the court recognised the severity of the climate crisis – but ruled that Government policy is a “matter for elected officials.”

The case, dubbed 'Climate Case Ireland' and lodged by Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), argued that the National Mitigation Plan falls far short of what’s needed to tackle climate change.


The group claimed the State's climate policy is "weak and inefficient" and will see emissions rise instead of fall.


Delivering a 50-minute verdict this afternoon, High Court Justice Michael MacGrath said the case was "very complex," and involved "very difficult issues of law and science."

He said that the Government did not breach Irish law or the fundamental rights of Irish citizens in drafting the plan itself - which he noted was one "extremely important" part of a wider climate policy jigsaw.

He also ruled that the question of whether the plan is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights is a matter for the European court – which is currently hearing a similar case brought forward in the Netherlands.

Climate action

After the hearing, Climate Case Ireland spokesperson Sadhbh O'Neill said the group will now consider the verdict – but insisted the fight for better climate policies will go on.

“We are disappointed but it is not the end of the road,” she said.

“We have many, many challenges facing us and we need to go out there tomorrow and support all the young people striking because climate change is still there – it is still a problem we have to confront.”

“We use litigation one day and we are going to have to get our bodies out on the street the next day.

“One way or another we are going to have to drive home the message to our political leaders that they have to take urgent action.”


This evening, Climate Case Ireland spokesperson Clodagh Daly the group is refusing to “accept an unthinkably bleak future without a fight."

“We’ll now be looking at our options very closely with our legal team in terms of an appeal,” she said.

“Ireland’s emissions remain among the highest in Europe per person and our overall emissions have risen significantly over the past three decades.

“By failing to dramatically reduce our emissions, the Irish Government is ignoring public calls and a political consensus for more ambitious climate action.”

Political field

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the verdict throws the climate question right "back in the political field."

"The judge was saying was that the courts will only go so far in terms of how they interpret policy and interpret plans," he said.

"A lot of the climate activists are disappointed today but, in my mind, the ball is now back in the political field. That is where we have to take action. That is where things have to change."

He said tomorrow's climate strike offers people a chance to voice their concerns about the climate crisis.

"First things first, I am going to that climate strike tomorrow," he said. "Because that is how political action works."

"It works from the bottom up - people showing that they want action.

"The fundamentals of this case were that the Government is not taking into account the science. That is what the message is tomorrow with the climate strike. The science requires us to be more ambitious and our Government is not doing it.

"I think that is clear. The judge did not dispute that, he just said that it was the political system that has to address that.

Activists gathered outside Dublin's Four Courts ahead of the verdict - while thousands of people prepare to join the global climate strike tomorrow.

Around 15,000 students are expected to leave class and take to the streets in Ireland with strikes planned in over 100 countries worldwide.

Deputy Ryan said it is not just students who will be joining the day of action.

"What Greta Thunberg is saying is that everyone is welcome tomorrow," he said.

"This is a general strike. It is not just students. I hope there will be those 15,000 students but it is not just those that are being called to action here.

"It is everyone. It is all our futures that are at stake."

Fridays for Future

Ms O'Neill said it is very inspiring seeing so many people getting involved in the climate cause.

“This year has seen an unprecedented wave of mobilisation,” she said.

“People are alarmed; people are taking to the streets and it is really shocking in a way that it is young people leading the movement because clearly the adults in the room need to be making the difficult decisions.

“We are very much inspired by this and we have great hope that this new youth movement will lead us to place where people see the benefits and importance of climate action.

“It is not something to be afraid of – it is absolutely necessary to ensure our children’s safety.


The climate strike movement was started by teen activist Greta Thunberg who last year made her way to Swedish Parliament every Friday to hold solo protests instead of attending class.

She is currently in the US ahead of next week's UN Climate Action Summit in New York.

On Wednesday, she told the US Congress climate crisis committee that it is time for lawmakers to engage with young people - and tell the truth about the climate crisis.

Ahead of today's verdict, Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) warned that Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions will rise rather than fall under the Government's 2017 National Mitigation Plan.

The plan aims to reduce Ireland's emissions by 80%, compared to 1990 levels, by 2050.

FIE has argued that it does not go far enough to reach that goal - or the EU target of a 20% reduction by 2020.

The State is expected to miss the target by a substantial margin and will face EU fines if it does so.

Ms O'Neill said the Government's polices are "just not Ambitious enough."

"We need much more radical steps; urgent actions rather than plans is what we need at this stage."

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