Environmental organizations have brought a climate change lawsuit against the government of Spain in an effort to compel more ambitious action in addressing the climate emergency.
Greenpeace Spain, Ecologistas en Acción and Oxfam Intermón filed their case before Spain’s Supreme Court on September 15 contending that Spain has failed to take adequate action on climate in violation of the nation’s international obligations and legal duties. It is the first domestic climate lawsuit initiated against the Spanish government.
“To avoid devastating climate change there is only one way: to drastically and rapidly reduce CO2 emissions and accelerate the ecological transition, which requires courageous political and judicial decisions,” Mario Rodríguez, director of Greenpeace Spain, said in a press release.
The lawsuit claims that Spain has breached its obligations under a European Union law - Regulation (EU) 2018/1999 – regarding governance of the Energy Union and Climate Action, a framework for establishing national climate policies. According to the environmental organizations, that regulatory framework required Spain to approve a National Energy and Climate Plan and a Long Term Strategy by December 2019, which the government has not done. The government’s draft plan, the environmental plaintiffs argue, is incompatible with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and particularly the more ambitious goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C.
Spain’s draft climate plan currently calls for a 23 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (below 1990 levels) by 2030. Plaintiffs say this is insufficient based on scientific recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Those IPCC guidelines for limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C would necessitate that Spain pursue emissions cuts of at least 55 percent by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2040, according to the environmental plaintiffs.
The nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are seeking a court order requiring Spain to take more aggressive climate action, specifically to reduce emissions by 55 percent (below 1990 levels) by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2040.
According to Oxfam, this greater ambition to address climate change is necessary for the Spanish government to ensure protection of the fundamental human rights of its citizens.
“As in the rest of the planet, [and] in Spain, the most vulnerable people are both those who pollute the least and those who have the least resources to adapt and mitigate the consequences of climate change,” said Franc Cortada, director of Oxfam Intermón. “It is important that any process of ecological transformation in our country have mechanisms to defend these people.”
“With current commitments to reduce emissions, Spain will not be able to avoid the impact of serious drought episodes, the increase in the number and intensity of fires and a higher rise in sea level with its consequent coastal floods that are yet to come,” Greenpeace lawyer Lorena Ruiz-Huerta wrote in a blog post.
“For this reason, the three organizations consider it unavoidable to initiate this lawsuit against the Government, the only instance to which to turn, due to its totally insufficient activity in recent decades to mitigate climate change that puts the most essential rights of present [and future] generations at serious risk,” she added.
This lawsuit is part of a rising tide of global climate litigation demanding governments take more urgent climate action. Similar cases seeking stronger climate policies have been filed in countries like Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland. Cases in the latter two countries have been successful in challenging inadequate government climate policies. Earlier this month a group of six young people from Portugal filed an unprecedented climate lawsuit against 33 European countries, including Spain, on human rights grounds.