Courts play an increasingly important role in delivering climate justice and accelerating climate action

Climate action



Join CAN Europe’s litigation event at COP26 [Saturday 06/11 at 18.30 GMT in Strangford Lough, in the Blue Zone] and meet the people behind successful cases in bringing governments to court, in Australia, Korea, Poland, France, Belgium, Germany, COP26 co-host Italy and in front of the European Court of Human Rights.


As governments and corporate companies fail to put forward ambitious climate targets to meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C objective, an increasing number of citizens turn to the courts for climate justice. The UNEP report on strategic climate litigation underlines that the number of cases have nearly doubled over the last three years. 

The London School of Economics’ report on global trends in climate litigation underlines that these strategic climate litigation cases use different grounds of arguments from administrative law to human rights, from greenwashing to financial risk and corporate due diligence. Their overall success rate is increasing and therefore governments and companies are starting to feel the heat.

Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe is bringing together the citizens and NGOs that initiated landmark climate cases against their governments in Glasgow. Join the event on 06 November at 18.30 UK Time at Strangford Lough in the COP26 Venue or watch here. 

The format of the event will be interactive. After an introduction of the climate cases launched by panelists, journalists will have sufficient time to ask questions. 

Regarding the increasing number of successful climate cases, Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe’s governance and human rights policy coordinator, Harriet Mackaill-Hill said: “The increase in climate cases, especially the role of youth in holding governments accountable, is a clear call on world leaders to act fast and fundamentally address the climate crisis. This event will be a clear call for worldwide decision-makers to align their climate ambition with the 1.5°C objective of the Paris Agreement without needing a court order. They need to protect citizens from the consequences of climate change and ensure a safer future for younger generations.”


Climate Cases that will be presented during the event are explained below.

Torres Strait Islanders vs. Australia: Only a week before the COP26, on 22 October 2021, Wadhuam Paul and Wadhuam Pabai, First Nations’ leaders from the Gudamalulgal nation of the Torres Strait Islands, sued Australia for failing to cut emissions and protect their nation from increasing sea levels and other devastating impacts of the climate crisis. This is the first climate class action brought by First Nations Peoples in Australia

Youth activists vs. Korea: On March 13, 2020, nineteen youth activists took South Korea’s climate change law to the Constitutional court for its insufficiency to limit global temperature rise in accordance with the Paris Agreement goals. Young activists argue that South Korea’s climate change law violates their fundamental rights, including the right to live and a clean environment, as well as the right to intergenerational equity.

Sejong Youn, Solutions for our Climate said: “In the past 10 years, the Korean Legislature and the Executive branch have failed to properly mitigate the threats of climate crisis, and this has become a question of fundamental rights under the Constitution. The purpose of this litigation is to break the deadlock through judicial intervention.”

The Polish Climate Case: In 2021, with the support of ClientEarth, five Polish citizens brought cases against the government on its lack of climate action. The claimants argue that their personal and human rights are being violated by the Polish Government’s lack of action, and that it must reduce emissions in line with the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.

Janusz Buszkowski, ClientEarth, said: “We’ve observed novel albeit successful environmental litigation in Poland in recent years. Attempt to hold the state accountable for insufficient climate effort is yet another sign of this Polish, but also worldwide, wave of environmental litigation. Its outcome is especially interesting in view of the rule of law discussion taking place in relation to Poland.” 

Belgian Climate Case: In 2014, the Belgian NGO, Klimaatzaak filed a lawsuit against the four Belgian governments responsible for climate change. In 2021, the Brussels first instance court condemned the Belgian authorities for their climate inaction and announced that it violates the legal duty of care and human rights. However, the Court did not impose concrete targets.

Rebecca Thissen, CNCD-11.11.11 said:We have supported the citizens’ initiative that led to the condemnation of the Belgian state since the beginning. This condemnation sums up the current climate stalemate. Our politicians are unable to cooperate effectively to adopt ambitious and socially just targets. Belgium is lagging behind all European countries. It is essential that the justice system takes note of this reality and makes it objective, especially as we are talking about such a serious issue as the violation of the human rights of Belgian citizens.This is a huge victory and has to make Belgium move forward.”

The German Climate Case: In 2020, nine young adults – with the support of Greenpeace Germany and Germanwatch – challenged Germany’s Climate Protection Act in front of the Federal Constitutional Court, arguing that Germany’s climate targets were insufficient to protect their fundamental rights. In April 2021, the Constitutional Court gave a landmark decision: It declared Germany’s Climate Protection Act partially unconstitutional arguing that it inadmissibly shifted reduction burdens to the future and to those who will then be responsible. The Court recognized that climate protection is a human right and that legislators must take their lead from science and present coherent concepts of credible reduction pathways that lead to greenhouse neutrality. Within only weeks after the ruling, the German government revised the Climate Protection Act and increased Germany’s climate targets.

Lisa Göldner, Greenpeace Germany said: “Climate protection is not nice-to-have, it’s a fundamental human right. Effective climate protection must start and be implemented now – not in ten years. Offloading the obligation to cut emissions at the expense of younger and future generations is no longer admissible.”

Italian Climate Case: In June 2021, more than 200 plaintiffs among which 24 NGOs filed the first climate lawsuit against the Italian Government, called “The Last Judgement” to challenge the government’s insufficient greenhouse gas emission reductions policies. The claimants are seeking a ruling ordering the State to achieve a reduction of 92% in GHG emissions by 2030, in order to meet the long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement (aiming at limiting global warming to 1.5°C).

Lucie Greyl, from A Sud said: “Looking at the current trends, Italy is too far behind in terms of emission reductions policies, the risk is that our country will not even match EU goals by 2030. Given the specific vulnerability of the peninsula to climate change impacts and the historical responsibility of our State, it is urgent to boost climate policies’ ambition. That is why we decided to promote a climate litigation based on the application of the principle of fair share and equity, calling for the recognition of the state’s obligations to guarantee citizens and future generations human rights to a safe climate”.

Portuguese youth vs. 33 European countries: In September 2020, six Portuguese children and young adults experiencing the effects of rising heat extremes in Portugal brought a case against Europe’s 33 major emitter countries for failing to do their part in addressing the climate crisis. In October 2020, the Strasbourg Court granted the case priority status on the basis of the “importance and urgency of the issues raised”. The youth-applicants argue that defendant countries must adopt the “deep and urgent” emissions cuts which the UN says are now necessary to achieve the goal of the Paris Agreement. 

Gerry Liston from Global Legal Action Network said: “ An international court such as the European Court of Human Rights is particularly well placed to respond to a global issue like climate change. The youth-applicants in this case are seeking a judgment which would push human rights law towards requiring the steep and immediate emissions reductions now required to safeguard their futures. This judgment would also significantly strengthen the position of those fighting for climate justice before domestic courts.“

French Climate Case:  In 2019, four French NGOs took the French State to court for its inaction in regards to the worsening climate change and asked the Court to recognize the State’s obligation to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C and to comply with its mitigation obligations, including its greenhouse gas budgets.

The Administrative Court of Paris  acknowledged on the 3rd of February 2021 that the State failed to comply with its 2015-2018 greenhouse gas reduction budget given that France emitted 62 million tonnes of CO2 in excess. The Court subsequently ordered the State on the 14th of October 2021 to take immediate and concrete actions to compensate for its inaction before December 31, 2022.

Paul Mougeolle from Notre Affaire à Tous said : « Our case shows that greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and carbon budgets enshrined in law cannot simply be disregarded by the government. Now the French State must carry out substantial emission reductions before the end of this year to compensate for its past failure. Although these steps go in the right direction, one should not forget that the world is still not on track to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Even more radical action is needed, and for this, France needs to raise its ambition and do its fair share”.



  • Nina Tramullas, Communications Coordinator (currently in Glasgow); +34 676 030 140;

  • Harriet Mackaill-Hill, Governance Policy Coordinator (currently in Glasgow); +32 484 74 22 54;


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