Shaping Society News

School of Law Conference to Discuss How Citizens and Environmental NGOs are Holding Governments to Account Over Climate Change

27 Mar 2018
Photo Credit: Trocaire Climate Chaos March

Courtrooms around the world are fast becoming the new front line for climate action. 

From Holland to the United States and Portugal to Uganda, citizens and environmental NGOs are holding their governments to account over their inaction to address climate change.

Comparable to the cases taken against big tobacco companies throughout the latter half of the 20th century, the cause of climate litigation is fast gathering momentum and has already claimed some notable courtroom victories.  

Inspired by the Urgenda case, in which 886 Dutch citizens initiated proceedings against the Dutch government for its lack of effective action on climate change, NGOs and citizens throughout the world are now seeking to hold governments and companies accountable for emissions of greenhouse gases.

Although now under appeal, the District Court of The Hague’s watershed ruling demanded that the Dutch government cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020 - compared to 1990 levels.

Subsequently, a Pakistani farmer won a ruling that “the delay and lethargy of the State in implementing [climate policies] offend the fundamental rights of the citizens”.

In Peru, a farmer is suing Germany’s largest electricity company RWE, alleging that they “knowingly contributed to climate change by emitting substantial volumes of GHGs (Greenhouse Gasses)”, which has resulted in the melting of mountain glaciers near the city of Huaraz.

A factory belching out smoke into the atmostphere

In Austria, various NGOs and individuals persuaded a panel of the Austrian Federal Administrative Court to overturn a decision to construct of a third runway at Vienna’s main airport because “because it would be contrary to Austria’s national and international obligations to mitigate the causes of climate change”.

Perhaps the most high-profile climate lawsuit against a government is currently taking place in the United States, where the Juliana case has recently garnered global attention.

First filed by 21 teenagers from Oregon in 2015, Our Children’s Trust assert that “through the [US] government's affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources”.

In fact, in a report published by the UN in May 2017, it was found that 884 climate changes cases had been filed around the world, including one in Ireland by Friends of the Irish Environment, whose legal challenge claims that the National Mitigation Plan does not do enough to reduce Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions and is a violation of Ireland’s Climate Act, the Irish Constitution, and human rights obligations.

Although climate litigation remains in its infancy, the consequences of climate change could prompt a series of high profile court cases against both governments and multinational energy companies in the not too distant future.

Such scenarios will be discussed at the Law and the Environment Conference at UCC on Thursday 26th April 2018.

Organised by UCC School of Law’s Professor Owen McIntyre, the conference will see two separate panels concentrate on climate litigation and its impact on environmental responsibility, accountability and liability.

For further information contact Professor Owen McIntyre via or Deirdre Kelleher via

For registration details visit

School of Law

Scoil an Dlí

Room 1.63, Aras na Laoi, T12 T656