Reindeer herders and lavender farmers launch legal case against EU climate efforts

Sweden's indigenous people, the Sami, say higher temperatures threaten their way of life as reindeer herders. [Shutterstock]

Lawyers acting for a group including a French lavender farmer and members of the indigenous Sami community in Sweden have launched legal action against the EU’s institutions for failing to adequately protect them against climate change. EURACTIV’s partner The Guardian reports.

A case is being pursued in the Luxembourg-based general court, Europe’s second highest, against the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union for allowing overly high greenhouse gas emissions to continue until 2030.

The families, including young children, claim their lives have already been blighted by the policy decisions in Brussels, and that the EU’s inadequate emissions targets will cause more suffering.

The legal complaint asserts that the EU’s existing 2030 climate target to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, does not protect their fundamental rights of life, health, occupation and property.

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The litigants, from Portugal, Germany, France, Italy, Romania, Kenya, Fiji, and the Swedish Sami Youth Association Sáminuorra, say the EU should define a higher reduction target.

The claim specifically targets the EU’s emission trading scheme directive, the effort sharing regulation and the land use, land use change and forestry regulation.

The plaintiffs, who are not seeking compensation for their loss, are asking the court to declare the three acts null and void, “since they violate the plaintiff’s rights and are not in line with higher ranking law”.

According to a legal summary of the complaint, to avoid a vacuum, the court will be asked to keep the acts in force until a stronger version of them has been enacted. Lawyers claim there is a case for this in article 263 of the treaty on the functioning of the EU.

In 2015, a court in The Hague ordered the Dutch government to cut its emissions by at least 25% within five years, ruling that its plans to cut emissions by 14-17% compared with 1990 levels by 2020 were unlawful, given the scale of the threat posed by climate change.

The government has appealed the decision, which will be heard in The Hague on Monday (28 May).

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Maurice Feschet, 72, a lavender farmer in Grignan, Provence, told the Guardian he became involved in the action against the EU after losing 44% of his harvest in six years because of climate change.

He said: “My family has been farming here since the 1800s. I am taking this action for my 38-year-old son who lives on the farm. We want him to continue to be able to farm, but it is not going to be easy. There must be more done.”

Alfredo Sendim, 52, an organic farmer in central Portugal, said the irregularity of the climate in his area raised serious doubts about the long-term sustainability of his business. He said: “Last year we had almost the entire year without a drop of rain. Then we had two weeks and all the rain that we should have had fell.”

In Sweden, the traditional Sami way of life herding reindeer is said to be under pressure from rising temperatures that threaten the size of herds. Warmer winters mean less snow and more rain freezing into ice, making it harder for the animals to reach the plants they need to eat.

Sanna Vannar, 22, the chair of Sáminuorra, said: “If we lose the reindeers, the Sami culture will be lost. Many of the Sami youth want to stay with their families and be reindeer herders, but they cannot see a future. This is mostly due to the threat of climate change. This must be urgently addressed for the safety of our generation and the next generations.”

Roda Verheyen, the lawyer acting on behalf of the families, said: “Climate change is already an issue for the courts in the European countries and around the world.

“The plaintiff families are putting their trust in the EU courts and legal system to protect their fundamental rights of life, health, occupation and property which are under threat of climate change. The EU courts must now listen to these families and ensure that they are protected.”

Scientists from the thinktank Climate Analytics are providing expert evidence to the families’ lawyers. The German non-governmental organisation Protect the Planet is bearing all the costs related to the legal case.

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Climate Action Network (CAN), Europe’s largest NGO working on climate and energy issues, is also supporting the action.

Wendel Trio, CAN’s director in Europe, said: “This is part of a strategy to get the EU institutions to increase their targets. In 2015, as part of the Paris agreement, countries agreed to pursue efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C.

“Yet, it is clear that the existing EU 2030 climate target is not enough to respect the commitments taken in the Paris agreement and should be increased. The EU needs under the agreement to confirm its target by 2020.

This legal action initiated by normal families impacted by climate change is underlining the urgency and the necessity to increase it.”

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