Scottish legal climate group raises complaint with European Commission

Dr Thomas Muinzer

Dr Thomas Muinzer of Aberdeen University writes about a complaint lodged with the European Commission over the climate emergency following the UK government’s failure to respond to a request for the expansion of “greenhouse gas” in law.

It has been outlined recently in SLN that the Scottish Climate Emergency Legal Network (SCELN) launched a “Seventh Gas Campaign” in October 2020.

SCELN is a Scotland-based network of legal experts and activists that is focussed on using the legal system to address the climate emergency, and this week it lodged a complaint with the European Commission relating to the campaign.

The Seventh Gas Campaign argues that the Secretary of State has an obligation to amend the Climate Change Act 2008 so that it incorporates Nitrogen Triflouride (NF3) within the definition of “greenhouse gases” regulated by the act. This would bring the UK into step with international legal and scientific standards, where NF3 is incorporated as a greenhouse gas within international law (the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), EU law, and substate UK climate framework laws, notably the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. This latter act includes NF3 within its definition of “greenhouse gas” after the Scottish government was formally advised to update this definition by the UK Committee on Climate Change in 2014. The amendment was made by the Climate Change (Additional Greenhouse Gas) (Scotland) Order 2015.

It was outlined in these pages in October 2020 that:

SCELN has just submitted a solicitor’s letter to the Secretary of State, calling on him to extend the definition of “greenhouse gas” under the UK’s Climate Change Act to incorporate NF3. The letter is accompanied by a detailed legal brief that outlines legal reasons why the change should be made. It also indicates that judicial review of a failure by the Secretary of State to expand the definition should be seriously considered, on grounds of illegality and irrationality. The solicitor’s letter cautions that in addition to considering judicial review, SCELN may raise a complaint with the European Commission.

SCELN has received no response to this submission to the Secretary of State, and so it has now raised a complaint with the European Commission. The complaint engages the following items of EU law: Effort Sharing Regulation 2021 to 2030, Regulation EU 2018/842 (applicable law); Effort Sharing Decision, Decision No 406/2009/EC (relevant law).

SCELN invites all those concerned with halting the climate crisis to support and join in its Seventh Gas Campaign. The campaign is supported by the Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland, which hosts a range of key documents pertinent to the campaign at its website, including the documents submitted to the Secretary of State.