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The start of this week saw MEPs vote on revisions to the Effort Sharing Regulation, along with a number of other climate files key to the Fit for 55 Package. While not all the results were positive, MEPs were favourable to including articles on access to justice. This is a landmark moment for access to justice in climate legislation and the ambition to guarantee this right must now be maintained, write Ruby Silk and Margarida Martins.

We previously established the crucial importance of access to justice throughout the Fit for 55 legislations, to guarantee citizens and NGOs their right to hold national authorities accountable for their climate commitments made in Brussels. The Effort Sharing Regulation, a fundamental puzzle piece for achieving the EU’s climate targets, is no exception – and it just became one of the first Fit for 55 files to have an article on access to justice added to it, alongside the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) Regulation!

The Effort Sharing Regulation 

The Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) sets national targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions from road transport, buildings, agriculture, small industry and waste management (all sectors not covered by the EU’s Emissions Trading System). These sectors currently generate about 60% of EU greenhouse gas emissions and are, therefore, key players for keeping global warming below the 1.5°C limit of the Paris Agreement. 

The Regulation aims to level the playing field by sharing the burden of emissions reductions targets. Higher income Member States take on more ambitious targets than low-income Member States, with the result that emission reduction targets range between countries from 0% to -40% compared to 2005 levels.  Although the overall results of this week’s vote were far from perfect, the ENVI signed-off on some small improvements for the ESR, including more ambitious targets and sub-targets for non-CO2 emissions. 

But if Member States commit to targets this year and fail to meet them next year or five years down the line, a slap on the wrist from the Commission might not be enough to put them back on track. This is what makes the  MEPs’ vote to include a provision on access to justice so significant. If passed through the whole legislative process, it will allow people themselves to hold Member States accountable to their obligations under the ESR. 

A LIFE Unity 2022 report about the implementation of the ESR at national level showcases the power of access to justice as a tool to bind Member States to their obligations and to ensure a high level of environmental protection. The report takes an example from France where, as a consequence of not being able to reach its climate targets, the government has been condemned by one of its own administrative courts. The court ruled that the government must respect its commitment to reduce French greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 (15 million tonnes of CO2 in 2022, in addition to the 21 million tonnes already foreseen). 

Access to justice adopted: what does it mean? 

The article on access to justice in the ESR relates to the countries’ annual emission levels. This means that citizens will be able to go to their national courts if their governments fail to limit their greenhouse gas emissions by the percentage mandated by the Regulation, and the courts could then order them to set the situation right. In the case that a Member State is not making sufficient progress towards reducing its emissions and has to take corrective actions, individuals can also challenge these corrective actions, as well as the timetable authorities present for implementing those actions.  

Hopes for the future of the Fit for 55 

With  the inclusion of an article on access to justice, the Effort Sharing Regulation and the LULUCF Regulation have been invested with more power to produce real change. 

Monday’s vote is a sign that MEPs understand the need to guarantee peoples right to access to justice articles in climate legislation. We hope they keep this level of ambition and commitment to environmental and climate justice for the whole of the Fit for 55 Package. The EEB calls upon the Parliament to put the money where its mouth is and strengthen the rule of law by supporting access to justice through plenary and trilogues.

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