Climate justice milestones from 2023

Climate justice milestones from 2023

This year saw youth from almost 100 countries across the Global South gather in Lebanon to co-create strategies and demands calling on decision-makers at COP28 and beyond to implement an equitable climate action framework

This year saw youth from almost 100 countries across the Global South gather in Lebanon to co-create strategies and demands calling on decision-makers at COP28 and beyond to implement an equitable climate action framework. Soon after at the inaugural African climate summit, young people from across the continent demanded meaningful action to address the environmental challenges threatening their future. Here is a summary of major updates, wins, pauses, and losses from the climate change litigation world in 2023.

European Court of Human Rights

The Swiss Senior Women for Climate Protection (widely known as KlimaSeniorinnen) case is the first climate case ever heard at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). It addresses the duties of Switzerland to reduce greenhouse gas emissions more ambitiously to protect the lives of at-risk people. The decision (expected in 2024) will impact national climate policies and cases in Europe and beyond.

In the Swiss Senior Women’s own words, “To sue one’s own government is no ‘Sunday picnic’ and can only be done by those who can prove that they are particularly affected. And in this process, we have come a long way,” said Elisabeth Stern in her personal reflections on the significance of the case.

International Court of Justice Opinion

The United Nations held a historic vote, led by the Vanuatu government, to determine whether the matter of climate crisis and human rights is referred to the International Court of Justice. On March 29, 2023, the resolution for an advisory opinion on the obligations of States with respect to climate change and human rights was adopted by 132 co-sponsoring countries at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). For the first time in history, the UNGA adopted a resolution to the ICJ by consensus. This was a result of a global alliance campaigning to get the highest court in the world (the International Court of Justice) to determine what duties countries have to protect the human rights of current and future generations from the climate crisis; and what should happen under international law when countries breach these legal duties.

Legal action against the Netherlands

Residents and Dutch citizens of the island of Bonaire, in the Caribbean, together with Greenpeace Netherlands, in May launched a legal action over the government’s failure to protect the Caribbean island against climate change impacts. Bonaire, a former Dutch colony, has been a special Dutch municipality since 2010. According to the seven individual plaintiffs, the state is negligent in protecting the people of Bonaire from climate change and violates their human rights. They demand that the Netherlands meet its fair share when it comes to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and that the island of Bonaire is better protected against the impacts of climate change, while recognizing the roots of the issues, such as colonialism.

Call for corporate accountability

ENI Knew, a report by Greenpeace Italy and ReCommon, revealed that the Italian oil and gas giant has known since the early 1970s about the damage caused by fossil fuels to the planet’s climate. This report follows a lawsuit filed by 12 Italian citizens, Greenpeace Italy, and ReCommon in May 2023 against the fossil fuel company for its contribution to global warming. The claimants are asking the Court of Rome to declare ENI liable for past and potential future damages to fundamental rights, such as the right to health, safety, and property and for putting and continuing to put in danger the same assets of the applicants because of the consequences of climate change.

Justice Ship Tour

Throughout July and August, the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior sailed from Vanuatu to Tuvalu and Fiji as part of our Pacific Climate Justice Ship Tour. During the visit, Greenpeace Australia-Pacific campaigners met with community and government leaders to listen and engage in ‘talanoa’ or discussion, and to learn how best to support Pacific climate demands. They celebrated the beauty of culture and campaigned for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the impacts of climate change on human rights.

Complaints to courts

On September, 20, 2023, 167 South Koreans, backed by Greenpeace East Asia’s Seoul office, presented a petition at the Constitutional Court for the declaration of unconstitutionality of Article 159(2) of the Capital Markets Act, for its lack of requirement of climate disclosure of business enterprises. They argued that the lack of mandatory climate disclosure results in companies picking and choosing what elements to report in their sustainability reports, leading to increased greenwashing. Unfortunately, in November 2023, the Constitutional Court ruled that the complaint should be rejected, but this is only opening another chapter of people-powered legal work as an answer.

Greenpeace International attended the opening day of three weeks of hearings at the Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg, Germany, in September 2023. The Tribunal was requested by a coalition of Pacific states to advise on the obligations of states to protect the marine environment from greenhouse gas pollution. The hearings were significant because three international judicial courts and tribunals currently are working to prepare advisory opinions on climate change, and ITLOS is the first to receive submissions and hear arguments. Greenpeace and Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) submitted a written statement, circulated to the parties involved, on the obligations of states to phase out fossil fuels.

Climate Justice Walk

In the lead-up to the 10th anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan’s (locally known as Yolanda) historic landfall in the Philippines, 12 core Climate Walkers and supporters from a diverse coalition of climate and human rights advocates began their solidarity walk from Manila to Tacloban for the Climate Justice Walk 2023: A People’s Journey for Climate Justice.

The 1,000-kilometer journey on foot and on bicycles culminated on November 7, 2023, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan, with the Climate Walkers converging with local storm survivors and impacted communities as they crossed the iconic San Juanico bridge on their way to Tacloban. The walk was in support of the wave of climate litigation cases worldwide, including the Philippine Commission on Human Rights’ landmark inquiry. It also demanded that world governments intensify their ambition for the Global Stocktake, mobilize essential resources for the Loss and Damage Fund of the UNFCCC, and elevate the call for climate reparations.

Climate Litigation Victory in Belgium

After nine years of procedure, a Belgian climate litigation case finally achieved a momentous victory. After a first symbolic win in 2021, where the judge held that the Belgium government breached its duty of care by failing to take necessary measures to prevent the harmful effects of climate change but did not rule on binding reduction targets, the Court of Appeal has now ruled in favor of such binding targets. The ruling of the Court of Appeal obliges the different governments in Belgium to collectively cut CO2 emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990.

UN Human Rights Prize

In December, The Global Coalition of Civil Society, Indigenous Peoples, Social Movements, and Local Communities for the Universal Recognition of the Human Right to a Clean, Healthy, and Sustainable Environment was awarded the 2023 U.N. Human Rights Prize at a ceremony in New York, USA. Greenpeace is one of the members of the Global Coalition that comprises civil society, Indigenous peoples, social movements, and local communities..

What Next for Climate Justice?

2024 brings an opportunity for people most impacted by climate to tell their stories and leverage the power of the world’s courts. It is a global opportunity to shape and define government and corporate obligations to tackle the climate crisis and protect the rights of current and future generations. It is an opportunity to build collective and transformative power to fight toxic power led by those most impacted by the multiple crises today.

What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? NOW!

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