Climate activists to take Government to Strasbourg after Court of Appeal denies Paris Agreement is relevant to the right to life

The Court of Appeal has rejected an appeal brought by the climate litigation charity, Plan B, and three young British citizens (Adetola Onamade (24), Kobina Jerry Amokwandoh (22) and Marina Tricks (20)) which argued that the UK Government’s failure to take practical and effective measures to tackle the climate crisis amounts to a breach of their rights to life and to family life.

The Claimants highlight not only the Government’s failure to deliver on its own net zero target and its failure, according to the Climate Change Committee, to prepare the country even for the minimum level of climate change, but also the City of London’s massive contribution to the crisis. It has been estimated that the City supports 15% of global carbon emissions and that the FTSE 100 is driving the world towards 4˚C warming. That amounts to terrorism on the younger generation and the Global South and the Government has a duty to intervene.

The Court of Appeal, however, ruled that there was no binding authority which required the Government to take the 1.5˚C limit into consideration when considering its legal obligation to safeguard the lives and family lives of its citizens. In the words of Lord Justice Singh:

“The fundamental difficulty which the Claimants face is that there is no authority from the European Court of Human Rights on which they can rely, citing the Paris Agreement as being relevant to the interpretation of the ECHR, Articles 2 and 8.”

Tim Crosland, the Director of Plan B and also a claimant in the case, said:

The science is clear. The risk to life if we breach 1.5˚C is intolerable. People are already dying and being displaced at scale now. Our addiction to hydrocarbons fuels international conflict, from Iraq to Ukraine. Beyond 1.5˚C – the internationally recognised limit championed by the UK Government at COP26 – we face the prospect of global famine, the displacement of 40% of the world’s population, and crossing climate tipping points, meaning we could lose control of the climate for good.

The British Courts’ refusal to consider the Paris Agreement relevant to the analysis of the right to life – in stark contrast to their counterparts in the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium and elsewhere – is bizarre and irrational. If the greatest threat to life that we face is irrelevant to the legal analysis of the right to life, the law has detached itself from all reality.

It would be wrong, however, to attribute this irrationality to Lord Justice Singh personally. He was on the Court of Appeal which ruled in February 2020 that the Government had acted unlawfully by treating the Paris Agreement as irrelevant to the expansion of Heathrow Airport. That judgment was subsequently overruled by the Supreme Court.

Stuck with such a diabolical precedent from the Supreme Court, this ruling from the Court of Appeal calls for the intervention of the European Court of Human RIghts. So that’s where we’re now heading.”

The Court of Appeal’s ruling contrasts with that of other courts on precisely the same issue. The Supreme Court of the Netherlands, for example, has ruled:

“Climate science has … arrived at the insight that a safe warming of the earth must not exceed 1.5°C and that this means that the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere must remain limited to a maximum of 430 ppm. Exceeding these concentrations would involve a serious degree of danger that the consequences referred to in 4.2 [which includes the loss of human life] will materialise on a large scale … the Supreme Court finds that Articles 2 and 8 ECHR relating to the risk of climate change should be interpreted in such a way that these provisions oblige the contracting states to do ‘their part’ to counter that danger.”

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Court of Appeal judgment