First large-scale climate litigation filed in Finland

D&I Alert

In a historic first, Greenpeace and the Finnish Foundation for Nature Protection, Suomen Luonnonsuojeluliitto ry, have filed a large-scale lawsuit with the Supreme Administrative Court in Finland, alleging breach of the Finnish Climate Act by the Finnish Government.1

The appeal, dated 28 November 2022, essentially claims that the Finnish Government has neglected its duty to properly assess and decide on the need for additional measures pertaining to climate change mitigation when it decided to provide the Finnish Parliament with the Annual Climate Report.

According to section 16 of the Finnish Climate Act, “[t]he Government shall monitor the implementation of the climate policy plans […] adequately to determine whether the targets concerning climate change mitigation and adaptation set out in the plans and the objectives referred to […] will be achieved. On the basis of the monitoring, the Government shall, if necessary, decide on the additional measures required to achieve the targets2

In the case at hand, the appellants argue that the Annual Climate Report falls under the scope of section 16, and, therefore, that the Government should have considered and decided on the need for additional measures with respect to climate change mitigation instead of merely submitting the report to the Finnish Parliament. According to the appeal, additional measures are needed since a recent study showed that the Finnish State now has substantially less carbon sinks at its disposal than it had in the past. As such, the appeal argues, Finland’s goal of being carbon-neutral by 20353 will likely not be reached without the implementation of additional measures. The appellants therefore argue that the Government’s decision shall be annulled and reconsidered.

Procedural issues

As seen in other climate change litigations worldwide, the typical procedural hurdles include both admissibility and standing.

In the matter at hand, the appellants first tackle the issue of whether this is a decision which can be appealed. They argue that while the passivity of an authority normally does not constitute grounds for appeal as per the Finnish Administrative Judicial Procedure Act, there are instances where the right to appeal should be subject to a wider interpretation. The appeal furthermore contends that deciding to neither resort to nor investigate the need for additional measures with respect to climate change mitigation can be seen as a decision in and of itself, as opposed to a passive stance. As such, the appellants state that this constitutes a decision of the Finnish Government which should be considered capable of appeal.

Moving to the issue of standing, the appellants argue that they have standing in the matter as they are environmental organisations, whom a decision concerns, or whose right, obligation or interest is directly affected by the decision, within the meaning of the Finnish Administrative Judicial Procedure Act4. Reference is also made to the Aarhus Convention as well as previous Finnish case law from the Supreme Administrative Court, on the basis of which the appellants argue that environmental organisations such as themselves shall have the right to appeal decisions which concern their interests. The appellants further contend that it is vital that they be granted standing in the matter, as there otherwise exists a risk that the goal of the Climate Act will not be properly reached.

Conclusion

In light of the above, it seems evident that the appeal now filed will have to tackle many procedural issues similar to those seen in large-scale climate litigations conducted in other jurisdictions. Therefore, it remains to be seen how the case will move forward and what counter-arguments will be raised by the Finnish Government.

In the past, the primary means of yielding political influence on a grassroots level have been limited to measures such as voting, lobbying and demonstrating. As foundations and organisations increasingly seek to hold governments accountable for climate change mitigation, litigation has been added to the list, with Finland now being one of the countries where such litigation is taking place.

1Press release and appeal is available in Finnish at https://www.sll.fi/2022/11/28/suomen-ensimmainen-ilmasto-oikeudenkaynti-vireille-greenpeace-ja-suomen-luonnonsuojeluliitto-valittavat-valtion-ilmastopaatoksesta-riittamattomien-hiilinielutoimien-takia/, visited on 28 November 2022
2See the unofficial translation of the Act, available at https://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/kaannokset/2015/en20150609.pdf, visited on 28 November 2022
3The appellants state that this goal has also been referred to in section 2 of the Climate Act.
4See the unofficial translation of the Act, available at https://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/kaannokset/2019/en20190808.pdf, visited on 28 November 2022.

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