Litigation cases

  • Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights (MFHR) v. Greece

    Opened in 2005 Last development in June, 2007

    The Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights (MFHR) alleged that the Greek government was not in compliance with Greek, European, and international law owing to the nature of its oversight (and partial ownership of) several lignite coal mines and coal-fired power plants. Among the legal authorities cited, perhaps most central to MFHR's claims was Article 11 of the European Social Charter of 1961; that article protects citizens' right to a clean environment by requiring, among other things, restrictions on pollutants known to compromise human health. MFHR's allegations ranged from the government's failure to prepare adequate environmental impact assessments, to its lax enforcement of pollution control measures, to its failure to achieve reductions in the emission of conventional pollutants and greenhouse gases, to its lack of labor protections. After considering the Greek government's rebuttals, e.g., that it had begun tightening its environmental enforcement regime vis-Ã -vis the coal mines and power plants at issue, the Committee concluded that Greece had indeed violated several articles 2, 3, and 11 of the European Social Charter.
  • Certain Activities Carried Out by Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua)

    Opened in 2010 Last development in February, 2018

    On November 18, 2010, Costa Rica filed an action against Nicaragua in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), alleging an "incursion into, occupation of and use by Nicaragua's army of Costa Rican territory as well as [alleged] breaches of Nicaragua's obligations towards Costa Rica" under a number of international treaties and conventions. As part of this proceeding, Costa Rica sought compensation for the loss of environmental goods and services the country sustained due to Nicaragua's excavation of channels on its territory. Among the services for which Costa Rica sought compensation was the impaired ability of the excavated area to provide "gas regulation and air quality services, such as carbon sequestration." On February 2, 2018, the ICJ ruled how much Nicaragua must compensate Costa Rica for the loss of environmental services. This followed a ruling on the merits from December 16, 2015 that established that Nicaragua's activities were unlawful and violated Costa Rica's territorial sovereignty and navigational rights, as well as the Court's Order of 8 March 2011, and found that Costa Rica should be compensated for these unlawful activities. Costa Rica argued that Nicaragua had, on two separate incidents, occupied the territory of Costa Rica in connection with the construction of a canal across Costa Rican territory from the San Juan River to Laguna los Portillos (or "Harbor Head Lagoon") and associated acts of dredging on the San Juan River. Nicaragua removed nearly 300 trees and cleared 6.19 hectares of vegetation in excavating the Costa Rican channels. The Costa Rican government sought compensation for the impaired ability of the excavated area to provide environmental goods and services including "gas regulation and air quality services, such as carbon sequestration." In ruling for Costa Rica, the ICJ reasoned that Nicaragua's activities significantly undermined the ability of the two areas to provide environmental goods and services. Because this loss of environmental services was a direct result of Nicaragua's actions, the ICJ ruled that Nicaragua must compensate Costa Rica US$120,000 for the impairment or loss of the environmental goods and services of the impacted area in the period prior to recovery. Furthermore, the ICJ did "not consider that the impairment or loss" of carbon sequestration services could be valued as a one- time loss. This was the first case wherein in ICJ adjudicated a claim for compensation for environmental damage.
  • Sacchi et al. v. Argentina et al.

    Opened in 2019

    Sixteen children filed a petition alleging that Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey violated their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ("the Convention") by making insufficient cuts to greenhouse gases and failing to encourage the world's biggest emitters to curb carbon pollution. The children ask the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child ("the Committee") to declare that respondents violated their rights by perpetuating climate change, and to recommend actions for respondents to address climate change mitigation and adaptation. Petitioners claim that climate change has led to violations of their rights under the Convention, including the rights to life, health, and the prioritization of the child's best interest, as well as the cultural rights of petitioners from indigenous communities. For example, Deborah Adegbile of Nigeria asserts that she has been repeatedly hospitalized for asthma attacks triggered by rising temperatures and exacerbated smog. Ellen-Anne of Sweden alleges that climate change imperils her indigenous community's traditional reliance on reindeer husbandry and herding. David Ackley III, Litokne Kabua, and Ranton Anjain of the Marshall Islands similarly claim that sea-level rise poses an existential threat to their culture. Each respondent has ratified the Convention. All five have signed the Paris Agreement but, according to petitioners, none have made or kept commitments that align with keeping temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius. The petition asserts that respondents have four related obligations under the Convention: (i) to prevent foreseeable domestic and extraterritorial human rights violations resulting from climate change; (ii) to cooperate internationally in the face of the global climate emergency; (iii) to apply the precautionary principle to prevent deadly consequences even in the face of uncertainty; and (iv) to ensure intergenerational justice for children and posterity. Petitioners allege that respondents have failed to prevent foreseeable human rights harms caused by climate change by making insufficient reductions to greenhouse gas emissions. Petitioners further claim that as members of the G20, respondents have failed to use available legal, diplomatic, and economic tools to protect children from the greenhouse gas pollution of major emitters including China, the United Stations, the European Union and India. The children request that the Committee make findings including that climate change is a children's rights crisis, and that each respondent has caused and is perpetuating climate change by knowingly acting in disregard of available scientific evidence. They also ask the Committee to recommend that the respondents review, and where necessary, amend their laws and policies to ensure that mitigation and adaptation efforts are accelerated; initiate cooperative international action to establish binding and enforceable climate measures; and ensure children's right to be heard in all efforts to mitigate or adapt to the climate crisis. The Committee must determine if the petition is actionable before making findings or recommendations.

  • Petition of Torres Strait Islanders to the United Nations Human Rights Committee Alleging Violations Stemming from Australia's Inaction on Climate Change

    Opened in 2019

    A group of eight Torres Strait Islanders submitted a petition against the Australian government to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The petition alleges that Australia is violating the plaintiffs' fundamental human rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) due to the government's failure to address climate change. This petition represents the first climate change legal action in Australia that makes an argument based on a violation of human rights. It also constitutes the first legal action filed with a UN body by inhabitants of low-lying islands against a national government for inaction on climate change. The plaintiffs inhabit a group of islands off the northern tip of Queensland, Australia, between the Australian mainland and Papua New Guinea. These low-lying island communities are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts including sea level rise, storm surge, coral bleaching, and ocean acidification. According to materials released by the plaintiffs, the complaint alleges that Australia's insufficient action on climate change has violated the following rights under the ICCPR: Article 27 (the right to culture), Article 17 (the right to be free from arbitrary interference with privacy, family and home), and Article 6 (the right to life). The complaint further argues these violations stem from both insufficient targets and plans to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and inadequate funding for coastal defense and resilience measures on the islands, such as seawalls.
  • Rights of Indigenous People in Addressing Climate-Forced Displacement

    Opened in 2020

    Five U.S. Indian tribes submitted a complaint to the United Nations alleging that the U.S. government has violated their human rights in failing to address climate displacement. The complaint calls on several Special Rapporteurs to intervene and investigate, and to recommend that the U.S. government and the states of Alaska and Louisiana take steps to address displacement caused by climate change. 

    The Alaska Institute for Justice submitted the complaint on behalf of five tribes located in Louisiana and Alaska: Point-au-Chien Indian Tribe, Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Citimacha-Cochtow Tribe, the Atakapa-Ishak Chawasha Tribe of the Grand Bayou Indian Village, and the Native Village of Kivalina. The complaint is directed to the Special Rapporteurs on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, among others. The complainants assert that they are being forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands as a result of climate change, and that the U.S. government has failed to protect them despite knowing for decades that climate change threatens coastal communities. They further contend that the U.S. government's inaction has gone beyond basic negligence where the government has failed to engage, consult, acknowledge and promote the self-determination of the tribes as they develop adaptation strategies, including resettlement. The complaint also alleges that by failing to federally recognize the named Louisiana tribes, the U.S. government is further hamstringing efforts to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.

    The complaint asks the Special Rapporteurs to recommend that the U.S. government recognize the self-determination and inherent sovereignty of all the tribes; grant federal recognition to those that have not yet received it; and take certain steps to protect the tribes' land and cultural heritage, among other things. The complaint further asks the Special Rapporteurs to recommend that the Louisiana state government allocate funding to the named Louisiana tribes to respond to the humanitarian crisis caused by climate change; require the oil and gas industry to give advanced notice of their intent to conduct operations that may pose a risk to tribal cultural heritage, land, and waters; and hold oil and gas corporations responsible for damages caused to the Louisiana coast, among other things. The complaint also seeks a recommendation that the Alaska state government allocate funding to implement the tribal-led relocation process for Kivalina, and that all three governments develop relocation institutional frameworks.

    The complainants' claims arise out of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the Pinheiro Principles on Housing and Property Restitution, and the Peninsula Principles on human rights that must be enforced when people are forcibly displaced because of climate change. The complaint also cites the right to self-determination of all peoples, the Charter of the UN, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and Article 3 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • UN Human Rights Committee Views Adopted on Teitiota Communication

    Opened in 2015 Last development in January, 2020

    A citizen of Kiribati filed a communication with the UN Human Rights Committee claiming that New Zealand had violated his right to life by denying him asylum despite his assertions that climate change made Kiribati uninhabitable. The Committee concluded that the communication was admissible, but that New Zealand's decision was not clearly arbitrary, a manifest error, or a denial of justice. 

    In 2013, Ioene Teitiota, a Kiribati citizen, sought asylum in New Zeleand, asserting that the effects of climate change and sea level rise forced him to migrate. When the Immigration and Protection Tribunal denied his claim, he appealed to the New Zealand High Court. The High Court found that the impacts of climate change on Kirabati did not qualify Teitiota for refugee status because he was not subjected to persecution required for the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Teitioa appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals. In dismissing the application, the Court of Appeals noted the gravity of climate change but stated that the Refugee Convention did not appropriately address the issue. Teitiota again appealed, this time before the Supreme Court of New Zealand. In 2015, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts’ conclusions, but did not rule out the possibility “that environmental degradation resulting from climate change or other natural disasters could [] create a pathway into the Refugee Convention or protected person jurisdiction.”

    On September 15, 2015, Teitiota filed a communication with the UN Human Rights Committee, alleging that New Zealand had violated his right to life under the International Covenant on Social and Political Rights. He argued that sea level rise in Kiribati caused by climate change has created a scarcity of habitable space, resulting in violent land disputes, and environmental degradation including saltwater contamination of the freshwater supply. On January 7, 2020, the Committee ruled that the communication was admissible because Teitiota had sufficiently substantiated his claim that when he was removed to Kiribati he faced an imminent risk of being arbitrarily deprived of his life due to the effects of sea level rise. The Committee reasoned that the requirement of imminence attaches to the decision to remove the individual, and not to the anticipated harm in the receiving state, although the latter is relevant in assessing the real risk faced by the individual. 

    The Committee dismissed the communication on the merits, however, explaining that it could only reverse a States party's determination that was clearly arbitrary or amounted to a manifest error or a denial of justice. The Committee reasoned that the risk of an arbitrary deprivation of life must be personal, rather than rooted in the general conditions of the receiving state, except in the most extreme cases. The Committee recognized that environmental degradation and climate change constitute serious threats to the ability of present and future generations to enjoy the right to life, but upheld New Zealand's determination that Teitiota had not provided evidence that he faced any real chance of being harmed in a land dispute, would be unable to grow food or access potable water, or otherwise faced life-threatening conditions.

    The Committee did find, however, that "given that the risk of an entire country becoming submerged under water is such an extreme risk, the conditions of life in such a country may become incompatible with the right to life with dignity before the risk is realized." Accepting Teitiota's claim that sea level rise is likely to render Kiribati uninhabitable, the Committee explained that given the 10-15 year timeframe, there was sufficient time for intervening acts by the government of Kiribati to protect its citizens. 

    Two Committee members dissented. One attacked the majority's reliance on the lack of evidence that Teitiota's family lacked potable water, explaining that "potable" does not equate to "safe drinking water." The second argued that the Committee placed an unreasonable burden of proof on Teitiota to establish a real risk of danger of arbitrary deprivation of life.
  • Specific instance under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises submitted to the Slovenian and UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines

    Opened in 2019

    A coalition of social and environmental groups filed a complaint alleging that a British company violated the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises in applying for a permit to expand a fracking operation in Slovenia. 

    The complaint was filed with the Slovenian National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines (NCP) by Focus Association for Sustainable Development and 16 other nongovernmental organizations and civil initiatives. The complainants assert that the UK-based company Ascent Resources plc ("Ascent Resources") violated the OECD Guidelines in applying for a permit to expand a fracking operation at a natural gas field near Petišovci, Slovenia. The complaint also implicates Ascent Resources's subsidiary in Slovenia, Ascent Resources d.o.o., and its contractor, Geonergo, d.o.o. 

    The complaint asserts that Ascent Resources ran afoul of the OECD Guidelines by: failing to take adequate steps to consider and address the potential environmental impacts of fracking, including fracking's contribution to the threat of runaway climate change; failing to work with a view to achieving sustainable development and take due account of the need to protect the environment; engaging in improper political involvement by organizing a lobby campaign to pressure the Slovenian Ministry of the Environment to complete the permitting process for the fracking expansion without complication; failing to undertake required due diligence by not ensuring that its subsidiary and contractor considered all the environmental and health risks of fracking; incentivizing its subsidiary and contractor to cause adverse environmental and health impacts through fracking; and improperly avoided engagement with relevant stakeholders including local anti-fracking groups. The complaint also faults Geonergo, Ascent Resources's contractor, for seeking an exemption from the need to undertake an environmental impact assessment. The complainants argue that the NCP should view Ascent Resources's activities in the context of international climate treaties given that fracking contributes to global climate change. 

    The complainants request that the Slovenian NCP bring their concerns to Ascent Resources and facilitate a dialogue aimed at ending the company's fracking activities in Slovenia. They also call on the UK NCP to support the Slovenian NCP in handling the complaint. Should a mediated solution prove unattainable, the complainants ask that the NCP inform the Slovenian authorities of the alleged breaches of the OECD Guidelines and urge that the allegations be considered in the permitting process.

  • Petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Seeking Relief from Violations of the Rights of Arctic Athabaskan Peoples Resulting from Rapid Arctic Warming and Melting Caused by Emissions of Black Carbon by Canada

    Opened in 2013

    A petition filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Arctic Athabaskan Council alleges that Canada's fragmentary and lax regulations of black carbon emissions threaten the Athabaskan people's human rights. The petition describes that the arctic is witnessing disproportionately large rates of warming, and alleges that this warming is having significant adverse impacts on the Athabaskan people. Those impacts include ecological disruptions that make hunting and fishing more difficult and dangerous, changes to regional topography of cultural significance, and the compromising of the Athabaskans' ability to make sense of their environment for purposes ranging from subsistence to maintenance of cultural traditions. The petition connects these impacts and the warming that causes them to black carbon by explaining that it is a pollutant with severe climate-forcing effects, including the substantial reduction in albedo (reflectivity) of snow and ice. According to the petition, Canada's failure to regulate black carbon emissions effectively is the beginning of a causal chain that ends in the violation of the Athabaskans' rights to enjoy the benefits of their culture, to property, to the preservation of health, and to their own means of subsistence as established by the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. That failure also, according to the petition, results in violations of Canada's duties to avoid transboundary harm and to protect the environment consistent with the precautionary principle. The petitioners, anticipating arguments that they failed to pursue remedies via administrative proceedings in Canada and its provinces, explain that such an approach was not feasible for the Athabaskans. For relief, the petitioners request: investigations via onsite visit and a hearing before the Commission; a declaration by the Commission that Canada's failure to regulate domestic black carbon emissions violates the American Declaration; and establishment and implementation of a plan to protect the Athabaskan people in coordination with the petitioners and the Athabaskans themselves.