Climate Writ Large


From top: Dublin Airport; Dan Boyle

It may not be attracting the attention of the Jobstown case, but judicial activism in environmental campaigning has been increasing.

Recently, the High Court heard an action taken by environmental group Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) and residents of St. Margaret’s against Fingal County Council and the State over its decision to grant the Dublin Airport Authority an extension of a planning permission to build a second runway at Dublin Airport. This is one of two significant cases underway in the High Court which challenge the State’s role in climate policy.

Arguments are being made that increased emissions would lead to an increased pace of climate change. Based on the reports of the IPCC, there is no doubt that increased emissions will lead to greater risks to human health and the environment.

Senior Counsel for FIE John Kenny BL has argued that

‘there is and should be recognised by this honourable Court as a constitutional right to an environment which is consistent with the bodily integrity, right to life, water, food, and dignity of the Applicants’ members and the citizens at large’.

Kenny argued that key Supreme Court decisions in the infamous McGee and Ryan cases relied upon an interpretation of existing texts to set out new rights under the constitution to bodily integrity and privacy. This is what now needs to be done to guarantee citizens environmental rights.

Counsel for the State robustly denied such unenumerated rights exist in the constitution. Of course these arguments would have been made for the McGee and Ryan cases.

What the State’s arguments show are the challengesfor environmentalists in seeking a constitutional remedy to protect against poor climate governance.

FIE, through its counsel has argued that there is now an emerging jurisprudential, philosophical and theological consensus that climate change represents a serious threat to human well-being. Because of this, shouldn’t the courts act to protect the right to bodily integrity of Irish citizens?

It is the very global nature of the atmospheric commons, and the all pervasive nature of greenhouse gas emissions, that requires a new way of thinking beyond existing statutory environmental protection.

These are not just procedural rights (to information or to public participation): even the Aarhus Convention recognises that those procedural rights are subordinate to the substantive right ‘of every person to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being’

In 2014 the Constitutional Convention recommended further consideration of including environmental rights into the constitution. Introducing the ideas of stewardship, responsibility, and environmental quality and a concern for human well-being and future generations has had a dramatic effect in countries that have incorporated them into constitutions.

Studies have found that countries (Canada and Argentina being two good examples) with constitutional environmental rights actually have smaller ecological footprints, and have better environmental legislation and litigation.

When substantive environmental rights – such as the right to a clean environment – are combined with rights to information and participation, this has tended to improve overall environmental performance, particularly in the case of water services and sanitation.

The Convention in its 2014 report considered a number of possibilities for inclusion in the Constitution, including a declaration that all citizens have fundamental rights to a safe environment, procedural rights to participation in environmental and planning decisions, and a declaration that the State has a duty to maintain and improve the environment.

The effect of codifying such rights could be a greater role for the courts in raising environmental standards and improving the performance of government bodies generally.

Wouldn’t that be nice.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Pic: RTÉ

34 thoughts on “Climate Writ Large

  1. Sarah.

    Dan Boyle – the man who when in government did nothing to stop the Corrib Gasfield, one of the largest extractive hydrocarbon events in Irish history. My hero.

    1. ollie

      dan boyle who was a member of the government directly responsible for the proliferation of diesel powered cars and their poisonous exhaust gases.

    2. Dave

      To be fair to Dan the Fianna Fáil and Green Party government did actually substantially lower Irish emmisions. Of course they would prefer if we forgot that they only managed it as an unintended consequence of protecting a cabal of bondholders and developers while throwing the rest of the country under a large bank shaped bus.

      1. ollie

        Protecting bankers……………..Anglo Irish banker brought to court by DPP, judge reviews the evidence and dismisses the case.
        The same judge who said that 3 bankers found guilty of a €7 billion fraud had ” suffered badly, they had lost their positions and been subjected to public odium and ridicule”, the same judge who said that the starting point for their sentences was 8 years, then dished out a sentence of 3.5 years to an individual who had a previous conviction for unlawfully giving loans of hundreds of millions of euro.
        By the way, he got community service fir that crime, guess who the judge was!!

  2. ollie

    My comment about the promotion of diesel powered cars by a government of which Dan was a member was deleted, stay classy broadsheet and keep up the censorship.

    1. Warden of the Snort

      dan boyle is an embarrassment and a joke commentator

      I look forward more to the Frilly Jean biscuit making epistles

      1. Frilly Keane

        Christ’ta nite
        You’ve it bad

        That naughty doodle you’ve got there is like an ESB pole FFS

        Get a grip lad

        1. Nofrills

          Warden is a bloody woman. Also known as Pat Kenny’s wife, Mary Lamb, No more Mr. Nice Guy and …. and … the list goes on .

          1. Mary Lambe

            Oh and burn the witch! right? How dare a woman have any opinions on anything?
            Lock her up!
            Note/ I’m not any of those people

          2. Warden of the Snort

            Lamb a jaysis?

            I’m all beef, and no one’s wife and not sheepish either

            get out the gap nopills

  3. Frilly Keane

    D’ya know Dan
    I did one ‘a those online surveys there the other night
    Ya know the ones that measure your political and liberal etcs

    And apparently I’m a member of the Green Party
    Mind how you go
    You might be caught associating with the wrong sorts

    1. scottser

      i did one for the oul lad there a few years ago. he’s a rabid right-winger, old school casual misogynist. but he’s pushing on now and his main grumbles were irish water, long waiting lists in hospitals and the like – you know the intended consequences of tax cuts and neo-liberal economics. so when i did the survey with him it turns out he’s a shinner. he was disgusted :)

      1. Frilly Keane

        Gas int’it
        I thought t’would have me as a Shinner
        But nah
        Dan’s crowd
        Followed by …
        Would ya believe
        The Campaign For Leo Crowd

        1. Warden of the Snort

          Sure you’re all over the place love that doesn’t surprise me at all

          I’d have you down as a closet FFer

  4. Eoin

    You’d swear there was bombs going off not planes coming and going. Two parallel runways aren’t going to be a whole lot different to the one that’s there already, in terms of noise or environmental impact.

  5. Yeah, Ok

    To truly be environmentally conscious, in a global sense, Ireland and all other developed countries have to accept that sacrifices to our way of life have to be made. People don’t want to see mining or oil exploration in Ireland yet quite happily use the resources of poorer countries who have little to no regulation, nonexistent labour laws, and atrocious environmental track records.
    We complain about oil, coal, peat and even wind power in Ireland but couldn’t care less where our imported energy originates. We’re dead against nuclear power despite it being the safest and cleanest fuel source there is, especially for a geologically stable country like us. Security from terrorist attacks is a priority consideration for any modern nuclear plant.
    We want our luxurious lifestyle but are willfully ignorant of the sacrifices other countries make to sustain it.
    We want our tech, our cars, and our cheap clothes but pay no attention to the vast breadth of global input into everything we have. People are well aware of the amount of elements in our phones and computers but very few connect the dots to the multiple international mines and labour links in the chain from the ground to their hands.
    No matter how we live our lives our carbon footprint is way above our fair share. Just because it’s not apparent in Ireland doesn’t mean it’s not our fault. We are the reason there are child miners in Africa. We are the reason for poorly regulated oil extraction in the middle east. We are the reason for Asian sweatshops.
    For us to truly do our bit we need to encourage highly regulated, environmentally responsible efforts to sustainably produce our own raw materials. Until then, we’re standing on the necks of others for our own gain, and there’s no other way to avoid it.

    I’ll go down in flames for this comment but until we accept our own responsibility to develop our raw materials insofar as we have those resources, we are the problem.

        1. bisted

          …poor Dan always seems to get the blame for the FF/Green coalition and he wasn’t even a TD never mind at cabinet…

        2. Yeah, Ok

          Trying not to attack Dan personally, but the common mindset among those who claim to be environmental activists in the developed world is, if anything, doing more environmental damage than the less intellectually dishonest among us who know exactly what we’re doing to the planet.
          For every wind farm that’s blocked in Europe there’s more oil extracted in Arab states and filthy coal unearthed; for every mine objected to there’s a dirty, inefficient hole in the ground being dug by the hands of women and children in Africa; for every pampered, soft European or North American demanding their “environmental rights”, people are dying and entire countries are being destroyed.
          We in the developed world are overusing everyone’s resources, we need to chip in with our share of the primary production – for everybody’s sake. We could easily make Ireland an environmental nirvana, but let’s not kid ourselves that that’s not the very attitude that is f***ing the rest of the world.

          1. Nigel

            The weird thing about this formulation is it puts the blame only on environmental activists who God knows are no more perfect than anyone else, but who seem to have a razor-thin margin of error before becoming scapegoats for the difficulties in improving a complicated world. No environmental activist worth their salt would dispute your second paragraph.

            As I recall the diesel scandal was the result of an immensely wealthy international automobile manufacturer committing acts of wholesale fraud that fooled most of the world for years, but yeah, sure, for some people it’s all Dan’s fault.

          2. Yeah, Ok

            Nigel, your favourite pastime is acting as a contrarian for social justice issues in this comment section, so if you want to think I’m putting the blame only on environmental activists, you work away.
            Irish people have a wonderful knack of protesting anything and everything for the most spurious reasons. Wind farms are protested regularly in Ireland for “visual amenity” reasons. Try explaining visual amenity to villagers in the DRC when the Chinese plough through their houses to access a mine, or to the Chinese themselves who can’t see further than the end of their arm through the smog and industrial pollution. Explain Shell to Sea to the Nigerians whose families are killed to take their land, or the Pakistani labour in the gulf states working as slaves to send pennies back home. This is all for our benefit, for our easy lives.
            Of course activists were and are important in having our strict regulations implemented in Ireland and Europe, and of course consultation with these stakeholders is increasingly vital to new developments, but this “no way, never” attitude that prevails in the developed world is not helping the planet in the long run. The water protesters and the wind action groups and the anti-pylon groups and numerous others all want to avail of the wonderful “stuff” we have but none seem to be able to wrap their head around the fact that it all comes with a cost, and if we’re not paying any dues for it here you can be sure as hell someone, somewhere is.
            Climate action, sustainable growth, circular economy – these are all the buzz words of the day. None of it is possible without us doing our own bit, which unfortunately in no small part involves taking a hit on our “visual amenity” and blind-eyed attitude to where our resources come from.

          3. Nigel

            Sorry if I took you up wrong. Again, I can’t really disagree with much of what you wrote, except that I wouldn’t set Shell To Sea against Nigerian campaigners (maybe that wasn’t your intention.) I seem to remember they paid tribute to Ken Sero-Wiwa on the anniversary of his execution. We’re both typing this on computers or phones using rare earth metals dug out of the ground by child and slave labour. If we let the way the global system implicates us all in its crimes we’d never do anything.

          4. Yeah, Ok

            That’s exactly my point – we ARE all implicated in this global clusterfupp designed to keep us on top of the food chain at the expense of everyone else. This goes far beyond environmentalism; we are the entire reason that developing countries, with few exceptions, will never truly catch up to us. We’re pulling up the ladder because we know we need them to prop us up from below.
            In order to be truly effective activists, and genuinely change the world, people like Dan and others should be the ones shouting the loudest for mineral exploration and O&G drilling here, as well as pushing for sustainable energy solutions in our own regions. Ireland and the EU has among the most stringent regulations in the world for these activities. We are exactly the people who should be doing this stuff, not the Africans or Chinese who couldn’t give a crap when there’s money to be made. BTW, as I talk about this subject I see myself as a European rather than just Irish – we’re in the European economy here, with European values and privileges. This parochial attitude focused on keeping Ireland green and pure is bullsh*t when you look at it from a global perspective, and that’s how it has to be viewed in modern times.
            I do feel if I stood up and declared this opinion at an average environmentalist meeting I’d be hounded out of the room by a baying mob!

        1. bisted

          …not sure about your bots …but those ungrateful denisons of Cork who dumped you despite the rising green tide have kept your nose (almost) out of the ministerial pension trough…

          1. Dan Boyle

            Sigh so so tiresome. If you’re going to troll at least get your facts right. I received seven less votes in 2007 than I had 2002. The national Green party vote rose by a massive 1%. Two other Green TDs were elected on fewer votes and a smaller % than I had achieved.

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