In an unprecedented move, twelve Young Activists Take Climate Protection climate lawsuit against the Austrian government to Austria’s Constitutional Court (VfGH), arguing that it is violating their constitutional rights by not taking sufficient action to combat climate change. The lawsuit was filed with Austria’s Constitutional Court (VfGH) on Tuesday, and is being supported by the “Claw Initiative for Climate Law”, a campaign that also supports “Fridays for Future”.
The initiative argues that the government’s inaction on climate change is not only a violation of the children’s fundamental rights, but also endangers their future by failing to prevent the worst effects of climate change. The lawsuit is seeking to compel the government to take more aggressive action on climate change, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, transitioning to renewable energy, and protecting the country’s forests and biodiversity.
The campaign received significant media attention after the Kronen Zeitung dedicated its front page to the story on Tuesday. However, the question remains: what are the legal chances of success for the young activists in court? And how can the Constitutional Court, which is not authorized to write laws but only to repeal them, contribute to climate protection efforts in Austria?
The legal basis of the climate lawsuit is Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” The plaintiffs argue that the government’s inaction on climate change is a violation of this right, as it endangers their future and the future of their families and communities.
The lawsuit also invokes the Austrian Constitution, which recognizes the right to a healthy environment and obliges the state to take measures to protect the environment. In addition, the plaintiffs argue that the government’s inaction on climate change violates the principle of intergenerational justice, which holds that present generations have a duty to protect the rights of future generations.
While the climate lawsuit is certainly a bold and innovative legal strategy, the chances of success are difficult to predict. The Austrian Constitution does recognize the right to a healthy environment, but it is not clear whether this right can be enforced in court. Moreover, the Constitutional Court is not authorized to write laws, but only to repeal them. This means that even if the Court were to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, it would be up to the government to take action on climate change.
However, there is some precedent for legal action on climate change in Europe. In 2019, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled in favor of a group of citizens who had sued the Dutch government for failing to take sufficient action on climate change. The Court held that the government had a legal obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020. The decision was hailed as a major victory for climate activists, and has since inspired similar lawsuits in other countries.
In addition, the climate lawsuit in Austria is part of a broader trend of young people using legal action to fight for climate justice. In the United States, a group of 21 young people is suing the federal government for its failure to take sufficient action on climate change. The lawsuit, known as Juliana v. United States, argues that the government’s inaction on climate change violates the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property.