Climate lawsuit: Children sue for their right to effective climate protection!
Represented by their lawyer Michaela Krömer and with the support of Fridays For Future, twelve children and young people have challenged the current, ineffective climate policy of the Austrian government.
What`s it all about?
Children's rights are particularly protected in Austria: They are part of the Constitution. These rights are based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and are meant to guarantee that no other law threatens our future.
However, the current Austrian "Klimaschutzgesetz" (engl.: Climate Protection Law) was introduced without taking these rights into account. It does not lead to the necessary reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and thus endangers our future.
That is why we are were challenging the unconstitutional parts of the Climate Protection Law before the Austrian Constitutional Court. The court has now rejected the claim on formal grounds. However, the great support for the climate lawsuit in recent months shows: every step in the fight against the climate crisis is absolutely necessary.
We therefore won`t stop fighting for our future. We demand intergenerational justice - now more than ever!
Ben (8) and Vincent (10) like to explore nature. Emma (10), Levi (16), Lilith (12) and Matilda (14) sing in a band or play an instrument, Barsam (16) and Laurenz (15) like to do sports, Smilla (15) and Franziska (16) dance, Lena (16) loves to read stories and Wilhelmina (5) loves it when someone reads to her from her books. But they also spend a lot of time worrying about the climate crisis that threatens their future. Yet they have a right to be able to live safely and happily in the future. This requires an effective "climate protection law". That's why a total of twelve children and teenagers, at the age of 5 to 16 years, have now taken the matter to the Austrian Constitutional Court.
The lawyer Michaela Krömer
Climate lawyer Michaela Krömer has been fighting for a liveable future in court for several years. She represented more than 8,000 plaintiffs before the Austrian Constitutional Court, challenging climate-damaging subsidies and advocating for more legal protection. Michaela Krömer is currently representing Mex M. before the European Court of Human Rights, fighting for enforceable climate protection.
21 February 2023
We have filed our application with the Austrian Constitutional Court (VfGH).
The Constitutional Court dealt with our climate lawsuit in the 2nd quarter session.
27 June 2023
The Austrian Constitutional Court has rejected the climate lawsuit on formal grounds.
Still no effective Climate Protection Law
Further climate actions are being prepared to assert the rights of children to a secure future. And FFF is taking to the streets on 15 September 2023, for the global climate strike!
Why do we challenge the current Climate Protection Law?
The Climate Protection Act currently in force does not define greenhouse gas targets since 2021. The legally binding commitment periods are a thing of the past. In addition, measures intended to reduce emissions are not evaluated on the basis of their actual greenhouse gas savings. Furthermore, the effectiveness of the measures cannot be verified. The law stipulates only a duty to negotiate, but no duty to implement measures. Furthermore, the law does not provide external control mechanisms, the involvement of a scientific body, and lacks a division of responsibilities between the federal and federal state governments. Unfortunately, we cannot invoke all points in our application to the Constitutional Court. Overall, the objective of the law, namely the "coordinated implementation of effective climate protection measures," is clearly not being achieved.
Where do we stand in the climate crisis today?
We are heading towards a world in which our lives are at risk. If we do not take the necessary action now, the climate crisis will lead to more hunger, more poverty, more migration, the collapse of states and wars. All regions of the world, including Europe, are threatened by the climate crisis.
Why is it important to limit global warming to +1.5°C?
In order to keep the impacts of the man-made climate crisis to a minimum, policymakers are committed to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and thereby to halting global warming at +1.5°C. Exceeding the 1.5°C mark also increases the likelihood of exceeding tipping points in the climate system irreversibly.
Even today, at +1.2°C, children in the most affected areas of the world are daily suffering and dying from the impacts of the climate crisis. In Austria, the increase in global warming to date has even exceeded +1.2°C.
With each additional tenth of a degree, global warming becomes more dangerous and severely affects even more people.
In order to limit the temperature increase to +1.5°C, the amount of emissions still being emitted is crucial. Based on the remaining global per capita greenhouse gas budget. Since Austria only makes up roughly one thousandth of the world's population, it is only entitled to a budget of 280 million tons of greenhouse gases starting from the beginning of 2022. Given the current annual emissions of 78 million tons of greenhouse gases, these 280 million tons of greenhouse gases still available to Austria is going to be used up by mid-2025. Austria's greenhouse gas budget should be taken into account in the Climate Protection Law.
Why do we need to advocate for climate protection?
Our future is being decided today. Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced now, because carbon dioxide (CO2), the most common greenhouse gas, remains in the atmosphere and therefore will impact the greenhouse effect for a very long time .
This is why we call for intergenerational justice to protect our future: Today's politicians should not be allowed to emit as much CO2 as they want at the expense of the future!
Why does the climate crisis particularly affect children and their rights?
99% of all children worldwide are exposed to at least one impact of climate change, according to UNICEF. Nearly half of all children - about 1 billion - are considered extremely vulnerable to the climate crisis. Many already suffer from water shortages, droughts, severe air pollution or other climate disasters such as floods, heat waves or cyclones.
Yet children have a right to life and to adequate living conditions for which a healthy environment is essential. The specific right to an intact environment is not anchored directly in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has noted in 2021, that states must take responsibility for the negative effects of greenhouse gas emissions on children. With our law suit, we want to achieve that Austria takes on this responsibility by passing an effective Climate Protection Law.
Which specific children's rights do we invoke?
Article 1 of the Federal Constitutional Act on the Rights of Children provides that each child shall be entitled to
- the protection and care that is necessary for his/her well-being,
- optimal development and self-realisation,
- the protection of his/her interests
- with regards to intergenerational equality.
Precisely these rights are violated when states fail to enact effective legislation to limit global heating to +1.5°C.
Article 4 of the Federal Constitution on the rights of children also provides the right to adequate involvement and consideration of his/her opinion regarding all matters affecting the child. Their opinion must be taken into account.
There are climate lawsuits in other countries as well. Are all climate lawsuits the same?
There have also been and still are numerous climate lawsuits in other countries.
In Germany, Fridays For Future activists also filed a lawsuit against the German Climate Protection Law. The young plaintiffs refer to the German Basic Law, according to which the state must protect the natural foundations of life, "mindful also of its responsibility towards future generations". In 2021, the German Federal Constitutional Court ruled that parts of the German Climate Protection Law are unconstitutional because they irreversibly postpone the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions until after 2030.
Portuguese children are also currently taking 33 countries to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). As the climate crisis threatens the future of their generation, the ECtHR is expected to urge states to significantly reduce their national emissions targets. Due to the urgency and relevance of the matter, the ECtHR has prioritized the appeal, and the ruling will hopefully be passed soon.
Our climate complaint is also about intergenerational justice. However, what is characteristic for the Austrian climate lawsuit is that in Austria, children's rights are enshrined in the constitution. Therefore, we argue: The Climate Protection Law is unconstitutional and must be revised.
How is Fridays For Future involved in the climate lawsuit?
The youth-led FFF movement supports the plaintiffs in all organizational points, especially in public relations. This ranges from setting up a website to social media work and press relations.
The goal of FFF is that Austria sufficiently contributes to comply with the Paris Agreement - a goal we share with the plaintiffs. Also, for now over four years FFF has been pointing out that there is no effective Climate Protection Law in Austria.
The Worldwide Climate Strike on March 3, 2023 will also be dedicated to the climate lawsuit and children's rights. Thousands of young people will draw attention to the climate lawsuit and take to the streets for the right of young people to a safe and livable future.
What does the ruling of the Austrian Constitutional Court mean?
Individual complaints to the Constitutional Court (such as the climate law suit filed by the twelve children and teenagers) must meet very specific requirements. The Constitutional Court has now rejected the climate lawsuit on formal grounds. According to the court, the application had been formulated too narrowly, so that a repeal of the contested parts would not have eliminated the alleged unconstitutionality. This means that the Austrian Constitutional Court did not deal with the substantive issues of the climate action. The rejection also means that in this case, the children cannot do anything to enforce their rights guaranteed by the constitution.
Therefore, the current situation still lacks an adequate protection of children's rights, as there is still no effective climate protection law with binding greenhouse gas reduction targets.