Posts Tagged Climate change
One can say many things about climate change litigation by individuals. (See my earlier piece on the Dutch Urgenda case). Many argue that the separation of powers suggest that governments, not judges, should be making climate policy. Or that international environmental law lacks the type of direct effect potentially required for it to be validly invoked by citisens. Others point to the duty of care of Governments; to binding – even if fluffy – climate change obligations taken on since at least the 1990s, and to the utter lack of progress following more than 25 years of international climate change law.
It is therefore no surprise to see that this type of litigation has now also reached the European Court of Justice: the text of the application is here, see also brief legal (by Olivia Featherstone) and Guardian background.
Like cases before it, colleagues shy of preparation materials for an international environmental law course, with comparative EU law thrown in, can use the case to hinge an entire course on.
As Olivia reports, the legal principles involved are the following:
The claimants state that EU emissions leading to climate change are contrary to:
- The principle of equality (Articles 20 and 21, EU Charter)
- The principle of sustainable development (Article 3 TEU, Article 11 TFEU)
- Article 37 EU Charter
- Article 3 UNFCCC
- The no harm principle in international law
- Article 191 ff TFEU (the EU’s environmental policy
One to watch.
EU Environmental Law, with Leonie Reins, Edward Elgar, 1st ed. 2017, part I Chapter 2 in particular.
Comparative conflict of laws is often a useful source for exam (essay) questions. I used People of State of New York v. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, LLP, No. 3685N (N.Y. App. Div. May 23, 2017) to ask my students to surmise how an EU-base court would judge the issue raised.
Keith Goldberg over at LAw360 has the following great summary:
A New York appellate court [.. ] upheld a decision to force ExxonMobil’s outside auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP to comply with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s demand for documents in his probe of whether the oil giant lied to investors about the climate change risks to its business.
The Appellate Division backed state Supreme Court Judge Barry Ostrager’s Nov. 26 order that PwC turn over documents related to its audit of Exxon subpoenaed by Schneiderman, saying the judge correctly held that New York law, not the law of Texas, where Exxon is headquartered, applies to questions of evidentiary privilege and that the Empire State doesn’t recognize accountant-client privilege.
Mr Ostrager’s decision is here – it has more choice of law considerations than the appelate court’s order. Eversheds have excellent analysis here of the overall issue of considering applicable law for privilege under the first and second restatement of the law. In the case at issue, ExxonMobil as well as the documents disclosure of which is sought (such as projected carbon costs and their application to Exxon’s capital allocation decisions, as well as documents provided to Exxon by PwC concerning the auditor’s role in compiling Exxon’s submissions about greenhouse gas emissions for the Carbon Disclosure Project, a nonprofit that collects information on greenhouse gas emissions) are based at Texas. But the trial is underway in New York.
Now, to the essay Q: how would an EU-based court hold on the issue? (For the purpose of last week’s exam I had a Belgian court rule on the issue, with the oil company based at Belgium, and the accountant at England, with the agreement between company and accountants subject to English law.
I am marking these exams later this week and hope to read some or all of the following: reference to overall principle that procedure is subject to lex fori; that statement being of little use in a system (like the EU) that thrives on predictability: for what is procedure to one, is substantive law to another; arguments existing both pro this being procedure (closely tied up with evidence, clear links with public policy) as well as substantive (privilege despite its public nature also protecting private, including commercial interest; parties wishing to manage the issue of sensitive information and forum); need for autonomous interpretation and tendency within the EU to define the ‘scope of the law applicable’ (eg both in Rome I and II); no trace in said Regulations of privilege being included in the scope of law applicable.
As always, I am hoping for students to surprise me. Undoubtedly they will.
In Coast and Country Association of Queensland Inc v Smith & Ors  QCA 242, the Queensland Court of Appeal held among others that the Land Court was correct not to include emissions from the burning of coal ex Australia, in the environmental impact assessment part of permitting decisions relating to Queensland coal mines: ‘It is outside the Land Court’s jurisdiction under s 269(4)(j) Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld) to consider the impact of activities beyond those carried on under the authority of the proposed mining lease, such as the impact of what the Land Court described as “scope 3 emissions.” These include environmentally harmful global greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the transportation and burning of coal after its removal from the proposed mines.’
As BakerMcKenzie note (a good summary of the issues which I happily refer to), this does not mean that such impact may not be taken into account at all: It can be considered when weighing up whether “the public right and interest is prejudiced”, and as to whether “any other good reason has been shown for a refusal”. However the Land Court tends not to have much sympathy for that view: contrary to eg the Dutch approach in the Urgenda case, the Land Court views the coal market as essentially demand driven: if no Australian coal is used, other coal will be – so one might as well make it Australian.
The High Court of Australia, Baker report, have now confirmed (without formally endorsing the approach), that Land Courts decisions wil not be subject to further appeal on these grounds. (So far I have only found the reference to the case on the Court’s ledger).
Not much prospect for well to wheel considerations in Queensland /Australia therefore. Interesting material for a comparative environmental law class.
Thank you Jonathan Cocker for flagging Ontario’s stakeholder consultation on renewable fuel standards, aka biofuels. Current thinking, outlined in the discussion paper, is to make the standards ‘performance based’: ie without pushing one or rather additive and exclusively focus on achieved (documented) reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Biofuels are known to create international trade tension. Argentina and the EU are still formally in consultation over the EU’s approach. Various WTO dispute settlement concerns anti-dumping duties on biofuels. Finally one or two elements of WTO dispute settlement on support for renewable energy touch upon fuel standards.
With all that in mind one particular element of the Ontario regime caught my attention: the intention to regulate GHG emissions ‘well to wheel’: ie ‘to assess emissions performance across the fuel’s full well-to-wheel lifecycle, from extraction to processing, distribution and end-use combustion.’(p.6). Canada does that already for diesel, with its 2014 greener diesel Regulation, employing what is known as the ‘GHGenius’ model.
What I have not been able to gauge from my admittedly limited research into that model: does it at all and if so how, apply to particularly extraction outside of Canada indeed outside Ontario? For the EU, much of the biofuel production (let alone biofuel imports) at some point or another involves extra-EU elements. How does a well to wheel method in such case work under WTO rules?
Update 29 December 2017. In Milieudefensie et al v The Netherlands the Rechtbank Den Haag was less accommodating to plaintiff in similar public interest litigation involving air pollution. Arguments included Directive 2008/50, WHO health standards, and Articles 2-8 ECHR. It is clear that cases like these will continue to be brought, and will not always side with environmental action groups. Yet there is no doubt that they are an essential part in making Governments sit up and take proper action rather than relying on the separation of powers principle effectively to do nothing. (Greenberg Traurig have good review here).
nUpdate 12 November 2015: the Belgian case has been held up due to the language regime in Belgium’s civil procedure rules.
I have reported previously on this action, when it was launched. The Court at The Hague held late June. For good (and impressive) measure, it immediately released an English translation of the judgment. Jolene Lin has excellent overview here, I will simply add the one or two things which I thought were particularly striking.
Firstly, this judgment was not written by a bunch of maverick ‘environmental’ judges. It is the commercial court at The Hague which issued it (see the reference to ‘team handel’, ‘handel’ meaning commerce, or trade).
The judgment hinges on the State’s duty of care which the court established. Urgenda, applicant, had suggested that regardless of the individual behaviour of Dutch citisens and corporations, the Government carries overall or ‘systemic’ responsibility (‘systeemverantwoordelijkheid’), as the representative of the sovereign Dutch nation, to ensure that it controls emissions emanating from The Netherlands. Article 21 of the Dutch Constitution and the international no harm (sic utere tuo) principle featured heavily in the court’s acceptance of the State duty of care. That the Dutch action might only be a drop in the ocean, did not impress the judge: plenty of pennies make a pound, and at any rate, The Netherlands, as a developed nation, were found to have increased responsibility.
At 4.42 and 4.43, the Court then applies what in EU law is known as the Marleasing principle.
‘From an international-law perspective, the State is bound to UN Climate Change Convention, the Kyoto Protocol (with the associated Doha Amendment as soon as it enters into force) and the “no harm” principle. However, this international-law binding force only involves obligations towards other states. When the State fails one of its obligations towards one or more other states, it does not imply that the State is acting unlawfully towards Urgenda. It is different when the written or unwritten rule of international law concerns a decree that “connects one and all”. After all, Article 93 of the Dutch Constitution determines that citizens can derive a right from it if its contents can connect one and all. The court – and the Parties – states first and foremost that the stipulations included in the convention, the protocol and the “no harm” principle do not have a binding force towards citizens (private individuals and legal persons). Urgenda therefore cannot directly rely on this principle, the convention and the protocol. (….)
This does not affect the fact that a state can be supposed to want to meet its international-law obligations. From this it follows that an international-law standard – a statutory provision or an unwritten legal standard – may not be explained or applied in a manner which would mean that the state in question has violated an international-law obligation, unless no other interpretation or application is possible. This is a generally acknowledged rule in the legal system. This means that when applying and interpreting national-law open standards and concepts, including social proprietary, reasonableness and propriety, the general interest or certain legal principles, the court takes account of such international-law obligations. This way, these obligations have a “reflex effect” in national law.‘
In this respect the court also referred extensively to the European Court of Human Rights’ case-law on the duty of a State to put into place a legislative and administrative framework to address the challenges posed by dangerous activities.
The Court also, with reference to international scientific consensus, concluded that climate mitigation, rather than adaptation, is the more effective, efficient and least expensive way to address climate change.
Eventually it settles for a finding of duty of care and ensuing responsibility to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by at least 25% viz 1990 levels, by 2020. This 25% is the floor of what the international scientific community suggests is needed properly to address the dangers of climate change. (The court, in deference to trias politica, therefore did not want to go higher than that floor).
Next up (other than appeal, one might imagine): the Belgian courts, which have been seised of a similar action.
Declaration of interest: I advice the Belgian litigation pro bono.
As has been more or less widely reported, the Dutch NGO Urgenta is planning to serve proceedings upon the Dutch State some time in November, seeking a court order obliging the State to present within 6 months, a realistic plan to reduce drastically The Netherlands’ CO2 emissions, and actively to inform the public of the causes and consequences of climate change. The draft proceedings (in Dutch only) review summarily (well, still leading to a 114 page document) the State’s obligations under public international law, and EU law, and the proposed consequential liabilities.
Trail Smelter, Minnes de Potasse, the Stern Report….: they all are mentioned. Of specific interest is the emphasis put on human rights, and the emphatic defence of the argument that The Netherlands also has a duty of care vis-a-vis damage occurring elsewhere (in particular: the developing world).
A maverick action? No doubt, and no doubt so intended – as are copycat actions. Desperate? Probably. However when desperate action meets maverick judge, interesting things do happen…
ICAO puts a spanner in the EU’s ETS works – Resolution calls for bilateral deals in the event of non-EU flights
After considerable debate, ICAO have adopted a Resolution on 4 October, holding inter alia that the EU must not extend its emissions trading scheme to flights covering non-EU territory, unless and until bilateral deals are concluded with the States concerned (see in particular point 16 of Resolution 17.2). This eventual position is considerably stricter for the EU than previous drafts.
ICAO did forecast work to start on an international scheme by 2016, with a view to resulting in a regime that will kick of in 2020. This delay is, one assumes, unlikely to be palatable by the European Parliament, especially in light of the European Court of Justice’s support for the extension. The EU therefore now needs to decide whether to up the stakes and lift its freezing of the ETS extension; leave the freeze in place and engage fully with ICAO’s search for multilateral action (not that the EU have not been trying so far…); pursue bilateral agreements with third States (not that mad an idea and not one which the EU have totally dismissed in the past); or amend its ETS.