The Supreme Administrative Court in Brno (pictured on January 15, 2020).
Brno – The Supreme Administrative Court (NSS) canceled key passages of the judgment, according to which the Czech ministries interfered with the rights of a group of plaintiffs when they did not establish specific measures to sufficiently reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The verdict was handed down last June by the Municipal Court in Prague on the basis of a so-called climate lawsuit. According to its today's decision, available on the official board, the NSS did not find support for some of the conclusions of the municipal court in international, EU or national law. For example, it is about whether the Czech public authorities already have a clearly defined obligation to take the given measures.
The lawsuit was filed by the association Klimatická žálo ČR, the village of Svatý Jan pod Skalou, the South Moravian branch of the Czech Ornithological Society and four natural persons, against the government and the ministries of the environment, industry and trade, agriculture and transport. A cassation complaint against the judgment of the municipal court was filed by both the defendant ministries and two of the plaintiffs.
The municipal court found that the failure to provide specific measures constituted an unlawful interference and prohibited the defendant ministries from continuing this violation of the plaintiffs' rights. The NSS annulled these statements, so the municipal court will partially deal with the lawsuit again.
“There is no change in the essence of our lawsuit and we remain convinced that the defendant ministries are not solving the climate crisis sufficiently,” Jakub Zamouril, a member of its council, said in response to the Climate Lawsuit association's website. According to him, the association submitted several expert studies to the court, which demonstrate that the Czech Republic does not have goals and plans corresponding to a fair share of the “global carbon budget”. “Ministries should not just react to what someone orders them to do, they have an obligation to proactively protect Czech citizens from the effects of climate change,” added Zamouril.
In 2020, the EU accepted a collective commitment to reduce in 2030, greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent compared to the level in 1990. The commitment has not yet been fully reflected in EU law and distributed among individual member states, and therefore, according to the NSS, it is not possible to state what level of reduction in greenhouse gas emissions results from this EU commitment for the Czech Republic.
According to the NSS, the approach advocated in the judgment of the municipal court would lead to the fact that the collective obligation of the EU and its members would turn into individual obligations of the member states. Its collective nature would thus be denied. Its purpose is that the member states can agree at the EU level how to jointly implement the commitment, i.e. determine what the legal regulation will be in some sectors, which will oblige all member states to reduce emissions together, as well as how the commitment to reduce emissions in other sectors divided between the member states.
“It would contradict the restraint of the judicial power if the administrative courts were to enter the political and legislative processes currently underway at the EU level with categorical conclusions about what the individualized commitment of the Czech Republic should look like,” the NSS judgment states. At the moment, according to the NSS, the Czech Republic is only subject to less ambitious obligations to reduce emissions, resulting from the collective commitment adopted by the EU in 2015 and reflected in valid and effective secondary EU law.
According to the NSS, the conclusion of the municipal court cannot even be based on international or constitutional guarantees of human rights, especially because of their generality. Without a clearly formulated obligation for the Czech Republic to reduce emissions by exactly 55 percent, the NSS could not assess whether the defendant ministries were violating it with their insufficient activity.
In the judgment, the court emphasized that global warming is a serious threat. It is said to be legitimate to demand that the ministries respond adequately to the current situation and the impending danger within their scope. “However, it is not up to the administrative courts to set themselves the criteria by which they would assess the illegality of the alleged intervention. At the same time, however, they must be prepared to provide effective protection to individuals affected by the consequences of the insufficient activity of the Czech state authorities in the field of combating climate change and its consequences; this need may increase over time with the increasing consequences of climate change,” the NSS said.
As for the other objections, the NSS agreed with the municipal court's opinion that the climate lawsuit against the government should have been dismissed. The government acted only in the role of coordinator of the activities of individual ministries, not in the role of an administrative body that would directly interfere with the plaintiffs' rights. The NSS agreed with the municipal court in a number of other partial procedural issues. He also agreed with the conclusion of the municipal court that the climate lawsuit was not justified in the part criticizing the inadequacy of adaptation measures that should prepare the Czech Republic for the consequences of global warming. In this part, he rejected the cassation complaint.