Climate inaction brings Italy to court for final judgment

This article is written in collaboration with Benedetta Ferrarini for the column of Rethinking Climate, Sustainable Italy. Rethinking Climate is a youth-led international cooperation non-profit whose mission is to understand how we can better communicate, and therefore understand, the climate crisis and sustainability in its variety of topics. What is it about the way we communicate about climate issues that makes it so difficult to implement available solutions?

Each of us is responsible for our own actions, which sometimes have repercussions in time and space. Each action or decision has a specific, albeit unpredictable, consequence. Omissions also follow the same logical rule, as do actions with foreseeable or even certain consequences. Science has long warned us of the extent to which certain human behaviors destroy the environment, in all its ecosystems. In recent times, civil society has demonstrated that change, of course, is necessary. A Sud’s Universal Last Judgment campaign aims to bring change to the forefront of political issues by accusing the Italian government of climate inaction.

Italian law also aligns with these positions, which are not based on moral or ideological presuppositions, but on scientific data and national and international legal obligations. The parameters for judging the responsibility of individuals, states and entities rest on two elements: knowledge, or predictability, and material behavior. Of course, depending on the charges laid and the type of person against whom they are laid, these parameters change. More importantly, can this reasoning be applied to the responsibility of states for not implementing adequate policies against climate change?

A growing trend in the world maintains that it is possible, in particular by recourse to the courts. Is it possible that the Italian State, aware of climate change and having the financial and political capacity, can be exonerated from its responsibility for not having taken adequate measures to combat the phenomenon?

It is in our eyes that the decisions of some are more effective than the positions of others. But the big question is, is doing nothing like doing something? In legal terms, is passive behavior in an offense comparable to active behavior? This is a question that has echoed in international law for decades. From the Nuremberg Tribunal which tried Nazi crimes to the most recent Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, judges have asserted state responsibility for violations of international law on their territory.

Universal Judgment (Last)

The Universal Judgment began on June 5, 2021, at the initiative of the NGO A Sud, which brought together more than 200 plaintiffs invoking the violation of the fundamental rights recognized by the Constitution.

SOUTH volunteers demonstrate in Rome. Photo courtesy of A Sud.

Following the famous climate dispute unfolding in many EU countries, Italians are claiming responsibility for the state that has taken no action to fight or slow down climate change. Marica di Pierri, director of the Documentation Center on Environmental Conflicts, doctoral student in human rights and spokesperson for the association A Sud, says: “The legal postulate on which universal judgment is based is that shared scientific discoveries bind States and constitute a reference for their conduct, both internationally and nationally. Rethinking Climate had the honor of being able to interview the project manager following A Sud’s campaign trial against the Italian government.

The main climate obligations that the State must respect derive from international, regional and national sources, including international climate agreements, international and regional human rights sources, European Union sources, the Constitution Italian – with particular reference to articles 2 and 32 – and other national sources, including articles 2043 and 2051 of our Civil Code. The request made to the judge is to declare the Italian State responsible for not having fought the climate emergency and to condemn it to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. This in order to meet the objective of the Paris climate agreement to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C and in any case well below 2°C by the end of the century.

In Germany, this type of legal action has had an incisive effect on the environmental policies adopted by the federal government, and Italian plaintiffs hope for the same in our country. France was condemned for climate responsibility after the L’Affaire du Siècle campaign promoted by civil society. The court ruled that the state had not taken sufficient action against climate change and had failed to uphold human rights and the collective interest in a healthy environment.

The right to life

The right to life and the right to health are threatened by worsening climatic conditions, due in part to the criminal inertia of the Italian State. The right to a “stable and secure” climate is also mentioned as a prerequisite for the enjoyment of the above rights, characterized by the stability of the atmospheric system, the safety of anthropogenic processes and the ecosystem compatibility of human actions.

Michele Carducci, professor of comparative constitutional and climate law at Unisalento, United Nations human rights defender and protector of the Earth for the rights of nature and climate justice, amicus curiae of Giudizio Universale, says: “The change climate which the global warming which is the cause, is a process of instability of the whole climate system, composed of the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the cryosphere, the pedosphere, the lithosphere and the biosphere: the whole system has become unstable. Rising sea levels, melting glaciers, extreme weather events show us that the emergency is no longer a matter of the environment as a particular place in itself.

This legal action is the instrument that will apparently succeed in deciding and pushing politicians to take incisive decisions on this file too often hampered by social and economic issues.

Recently, on February 8, the protection of the environment and animals was elevated to constitutional status, with Articles 9 and 41 of the Constitution having been amended. Although Minister Cingolani and many other politicians have applauded this change, the road to effective ecosystem protection is still a long way off. We look forward to the application of these new principles which, without the necessary positions, will remain purely abstract ideals. A good first step, for example, would be to invest in renewable energy sources, to introduce crimes against flora and fauna and to build a body of secondary law appropriate to these noble principles.

While waiting for the political class to take a decisive position on this issue, citizens have organized themselves to legally oblige them to respect at least their international commitments. The Last Judgment has begun, let’s hope the sentence does not lead to a disastrous end for the Earth.

About Lucille Thompson

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