Our legal action

Climate change is a global environmental emergency that threatens the enjoyment of basic human rights such as, among others, the right to life, health, food, water, shelter and family life.

As the climate conditions affect the protection of other rights, the recognition of a specific right to climate stability provides an additional layer of protection to all climate-impacted rights.

Insufficient climate action at the international level, as well as at the domestic level, even in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, already has the makings of the greatest intergenerational human rights violation in history.

The plaintiffs of the Italian climate case

With this in mind, more than 200 plaintiffs, including 162 adults, 17 minors (represented in court by their parents) and 24 associations committed to environmental justice and human rights protection decided to join this lawsuit, the first of its kind in Italy.

The aim of the lawsuit is to sue the State for climate inaction, i.e. for insufficient commitment to promote adequate GHG emission reductions policies, resulting in the violation of numerous fundamental rights recognised by the Italian State.

The legal action is part of the “Giudizio Universale” awareness campaign and is fully in line with other climate cases in various countries around the world.

The plaintiffs are assisted by a legal team including lawyers and university professors, founders of the network Legalità per il Clima:  Luca Saltalamacchia, an expert on human and environmental rights protection, Raffaele Cesari, an expert in environmental civil law, together with Prof. Michele Carducci, from the University of Salento, an expert in climate law, are representing the case.

The lawsuit

The premise on which “the Last Judgement” is based is that shared scientific findings, precisely because they are uncontroversial, bind States and constitute a standard for verifying their conduct, both internationally and nationally.

The main climate obligations that the Italian State is obliged to observe derive from international, regional and national sources, among which the most important are:

  • International climate agreements (including the 1992 UNFCCC – United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 2015 Paris Agreement)
  • International and regional human rights sources (including ECHR, European Convention on Human Rights, Art. 2 and 8)
  • Sources of European Union law (including TFEU Art. 191 and EU Regulation No. 2018/1999)
  • The Italian Constitution (including articles 2 and 32)
  • Other national sources (including Civil Code, Articles 2043 and 2051)

The legal action is addressed to the Italian State through a writ of summons filed with the Civil Court of Rome. The plaintiffs are seeking a ruling ordering the State to achieve a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, in order to meet the long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement (aiming at limiting global warming to 1.5°C).

Through the summons, the plaintiffs are alleging the unlawful conduct of the State, which failed to align its climate policies to the most advanced scientific findings.

The lawsuit is by no means symbolic. It aims to achieve a radical change in the State’s climate policies, through a decisive improvement in GHG reduction ambitions and the guarantee of full protection of human rights, in compliance with the climate obligations that the State is required to observe under the Constitution, international agreements and national legislation.

The contents of the summons 

The Summons specifically contains:

  • the framing of climate issues; evidence of the worrying planetary condition and the climate emergency, as established by the international scientific community and recognised by the EU and Italy;
  • the description of the specific condition of vulnerability and fragility of the Italian territory;
  • an examination of the binding legal sources of climate obligations;
  • the list of fundamental rights, starting with the human right to a stable and safe climate, threatened by the ongoing climate emergency;
  • the framing of the State’s climate liability under the Italian Civil Code;
  • requests and remedies.

To learn more about the contents of the writ of summons download the Abstract here.

Italy’s climate vulnerability

Italy is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Official reports predict temperature increases for our country to be around +1.8°C and +3.1°C over the course of the century, a figure that would reach +3.5° / +5.4°C under the most catastrophic scenarios. With a global average temperature increase of 3°C, about 50% of the Mediterranean region would be plagued by constant droughts, even for 5 or 6 months a year, and Italy could literally turn into “a desert“.

According to the World Atlas of Desertification, areas at high risk of desertification affect at least 20% of Italy’s territory. Precipitation could decrease by 30% by the end of the century compared to 1971-2000, according to the worst-case scenario outlined by the IPCC.

Entire coastal areas are at risk of disappearing due to rising seas. Not only Venice and the upper Adriatic, but also vast areas of Abruzzo, Puglia (on the Adriatic) and Tuscany, Lazio, Campania, Sardinia and Sicily (on the Tyrrhenian) are at risk of coastal erosion or flooding.

Italy is also increasingly dramatically affected by extreme events. In ten years there have been at least 946 extreme events affecting 507 different municipalities. According to the Climate Risk Index 2020, published annually by the German NGO Germanwatch – covering the 2000-2019 period – Italy ranks 22nd in terms of climate vulnerability and even 6th in terms of the number of deaths recorded in extreme climate events.

The scientific evidence supporting the legal action refers to the most up-to-date data available from national and international sources detailed in two reports commissioned by the plaintiffs from Climate Analytics, an independent international climate change research organization. Climate Analytics produced two reports, attached to the writ of summons, on climate impacts in Italy and reduction trends and emission scenarios for Italy.

Download the Climate Analytics reportClimate Impacts in Italy

Download the Executive summary of the Climate Analytics report Italy’s Climate Targets and Policies in Relation to the Paris Agreement and Global Equity Considerations

Requests and remedies

The aim of the lawsuit is to ask the Civil Court of Rome to issue a ruling ordering the adoption of stronger GHG emission reduction measures, capable of pursuing climate stability and guaranteeing the effective protection of human rights for present and future generations, in accordance with the constitutional duty of solidarity and the international duty of equity among States.

The main specific requests made by the applicants to the court are:

  • Declare that the Italian State is responsible for failing to combat the climate emergency;
  • Order the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 92% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

This percentage is calculated taking into account Italy’s historical responsibilities for GHG emissions and current technological and financial capacities; in accordance with the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities that characterise climate obligations.

These principles are essential in calculating the ‘fair share’ of reductions that each State is required to ensure in order to fairly contribute to the achievement of the long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.

Climate litigation as a tool for climate justice 

Climate justice movements demand, at the international level as well as at the level of individual States, respect for human rights, equity between peoples and generations, and the recognition of historical responsibility for the climate emergency.

One of the most relevant tools relied upon by climate justice actors is the recourse to legal strategies. The Italian initiative is part of a European and global movement in which citizens, young people, families and associations are increasingly turning to the judiciary to protect their rights and those of future generations from the climate emergency – in one of the most dramatic moments of human existence on Earth.

Read more about the most relevant international Climate Litigation cases here