On Friday, 20th of September 2019, over 10,000 people took to the streets of Ireland to join a global protest calling for climate justice. The words of 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg echoed throughout the protests. Thunberg addressed the UN Climate Action Summit on 23rd September with the powerful words ‘how dare you, you have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.’
The protest took place the day after the judgment of ‘Climate Case Ireland’. This case was brought by Friends of the Irish Environment, who sought to hold the Irish Government liable for knowingly contributing to climate breakdown. It was inspired by similar cases worldwide, most notably the Urgenda case in the Netherlands.
The environmental NGO claimed that Ireland were in breach of its obligations under the Paris Agreement 2015. The claim was that Ireland was not on target to reduce its emissions but rather increase them, asking the court to strike down the National Mitigation Plan 2017 and order a new, more effective plan to be drafted. McGrath J of the High Court held that the Court did not have jurisdiction to intervene and order the Executive to draft a second plan. This was mainly on the ground that the Courts must protect the Separation of Powers.
The result of this case did nothing but fuel the fire for protestors on Friday to show the government that they will not allow this inaction to continue. Signs held by protestors included the words ‘tá eagla an domhain orm’ and ‘tick tock Taoiseach’.
The Climate Action Plan proposed by the Government at the beginning of the Summer was disappointing to many environmentalists. The Plan remains silent on any aims to decrease in the National Herd or incentives to diversify the farming industry. It focuses on afforestation and the rewetting of peatlands to combat emissions from the Agricultural Industry. However, as Climate Science has repeatedly pointed out, reaching carbon-neutral emissions is no longer a viable solution to climate breakdown.
Another issue is that the majority of the trees which are to be planted as part of the plan are non-native to Ireland and often destroy the surrounding ecosystem. Although they are an effective carbon sink, they are not a long-term or sustainable solution to preserving the Irish environment.
Leo Varadkar, speaking at the UN Climate Action Summit, indicated that Ireland will seek to end exploration of Irish waters for oil and move to a renewable energy-powered society by 2030. However, many activists no longer hold hope for the so-called ‘empty words’ of politicians who value the monetary agenda higher than the environmental.
Isabel Doyle – Law Writer