Where does my waste go?

Where does my waste go?


Where does my waste go?

plastic container on beach
Sanghamitra C. Mukherjee

29th April 2021


Trash has always been a major problem in developing countries. Strangely enough, for residents of the developing world, litter can become such an accepted fact of life, that apart from perfecting the muscle memory involved in sidestepping any litter that bars someone’s progress to their destination, little thought goes into where it came from, let alone coming up with a solution.



I have long been acquainted with litter whilst growing up in India. Our school required every student to stay behind after school to clean their classrooms before leaving the premises, and organized random litter picking days when students’ cleaning efforts left the campus spotless. And yet, beyond the school boundaries was a different world. In the neighborhood was one of the city’s biggest slums that was eyed with suspicion and where children from more ‘respectable’ families were never allowed in. A sense of ‘othering’ permeated many levels of society, and when it came to litter, there was a belief that one’s trash was another’s problem.



People in developing countries typically consume far fewer products and with less packaging than consumers in more industrialized countries do, and yet waste is so much more visible in these countries. Part of this problem may be attributed to their inadequate waste management system and policies, improper trash collection systems, and insufficient recycling facilities (SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure). Also, although per capita waste generation is very low, the facilities that exist are frequently overwhelmed due to the sheer population of these countries. Untreated waste ends up cluttering land and waterways, and the rapid urbanization process means that big cities are the worst affected (SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities). Premature deaths are high from fumes and toxins, and regulation to prevent these is poor (SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being, SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation).


“It is accepted that pollution is inextricable from economic growth, and there will be winners and losers in this game. A misplaced notion of economic progress is traded for a massive public health and environmental concern.” (SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth)

Indeed, the many dumps strewn around urban areas provideeconomic opportunitiesfor the poor, mostly women, who scavenge through no doubt many dangerous items laboring for countless hours to find something of value that could then be exchanged for money or food with traders who inevitably drive a hard bargain (SDG 5: Gender Equality,SDG 2: Zero Hunger). Children often drop out of school to help their families with this income generating opportunity (SDG 4: Quality Education,SDG 1: No Poverty). With few other economic opportunities, the poor remain poor and caught up in such vicious cycles that barely sustain them.



I moved to the UK about a decade ago, and ironically, I first began thinking more deeply about litter only a few years afterwards when I was volunteering with a charity as a retail assistant for a period. I wondered where the second-hand clothes that were not sold eventually landed. What I learnt shocked me at the time. These items of clothing wereshipped to a developing countryin Asia or Africa, and afterwards ended up intheirlandfills and incineration units if they failed to sell in countries that werealreadystruggling with their own waste management problems (SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities).



More recently, I learnt the astounding fact that many industrialized countries have been exporting their plastic waste to poor countries since the 1970s, seemingly ignorant of the fact that much of this waste is either contaminated or unsuitable for recycling, ending up therefore as an additional environmental and economic burden in countries that received these exports, with the majority of these countries’ inhabitants oblivious to where it originated but suffering from its health and wellbeing consequences, and yet looking for economic opportunities amidst it all, the latter often being put forward as a justification for perpetuating such injustices into the future (SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities). Yet another instance of what has been dubbed“waste imperialism”.



Litter is therefore inherently anenvironmental justice issuefor three main reasons (SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities). Firstly, waste, especially plastics, is regularly dumped into countries that are not prepared to manage it. Secondly, when waste is not managed effectively, it typically ends up in more vulnerable communities even within the boundaries of the most industrialized nations. Finally, on the one hand, corporations choose to keep profiting from single-use plastics and syntheticsknowingthat no number of recycling facilities can ever tackle the sheer amount of waste the world’s population generates as a result. On the other hand, people living around and handling waste are regularly exposed to toxic fumes when plastic is burnt, forced to consume crops that have been poisoned by toxic wastewater, and compelled to make an uncertain living sifting through the likes of broken glass earning an inconsequential fraction of what the CEOs of such corporations make.



The current coronavirus pandemic has further ushered in anew single-use plastic pollution crisisas masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are being used and disposed of at unanticipated volumes. Waste management systems are already frail and clueless about the fate of this new toxic waste. Our oceans, coastal and marine life are already bearing the brunt of this (SDG 14: Life Below Water,SDG 15: Life on Land). The full impact of sinking even deeper into the already precarious plastic waste problem is yet unknown.



When it comes to climate change, there is a key question that inhibits people from taking climate action — is there enough evidence yet that we must act (SDG 13: Climate Action)? Granted, summers are warmer but not yet unbearably so in the West, and stories of occasional typhoons and droughts reach us from distant lands, their effect seemingly muted by the time and effort taken to cover the distance. Litter is undoubtedly a more visible issue, a fact of life in any developing country and familiar to Western tourists who have visited some of the world’s most famous (and dirtiest) beaches, a few in their own countries making the list in recent years. Even on the coasts of Dublin, eco warriors regularly collect tons of plastic waste washed up on its shores. It is thus less likely to be confusing as to why we must act now to stop it getting any worse.


“In a planet connected by one ocean and with strong ocean currents, waste generated in one part of the world could end up on the shores of remote lands thousands of miles away due to poor management and pollute and jeopardize nations that could in fact have the best policies surrounding their own plastic use and disposal.”

Solutions exist, and as with tackling the pandemic, these must be enacted cooperatively between governments and corporations to have any major impact (SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals). key step in the right direction would be for industrialized nations to invest heavily in their own recycling capabilities and introduce airtight bans on waste exports as for instance in the EU where less than a third of its plastic waste was recycled and 1.5 million tons exported in 2019. In addition, plastic waste that cannot be recycled can be turned into alternative fuel(SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy).



Several governments have also recently implemented a single-use plastic ban in some form, including plastic bag bans in Bangladesh since 2002, Kenya since 2017, Tanzania since 2019, and New Zealand since 2019, and a planned ban on single-use plastic straws, cutlery and other disposable items in the EU in 2021, a move that has been significantly delayed, most notably in the developed world. In contrast, plastic bag levies and gradual phase-out programs have been more popular in the industrialized West. However, for a measurable impact on pollution, a ban or a levy is not enough. Restrictions on retail distribution must be paired with moving to a circular economy framework that regulates throughout the lifecycle of plastic bags restricting manufacturing, production, and imports as well (SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production).



A crucial piece of the puzzle remains fuzzy — to figure out how to incline human behaviour towards reducing consumption where restrictions are not in effect. Fast fashion, with its artificially low prices and impressive variety, has for instance made it incredibly easy and tempting for consumers in the West to consume beyond their needs, whilst being next in line to the oil industry as the leading contributor to global pollution. Such exploitation must end. We need systems where products are priced at levels that compensate producers fairly and in turn provide the right price signals to consumers making purchasing decisions. We also need to embrace and scale up innovative solutions that promote reuse and longevity without compromising convenience or quality and thereby provide a myriad of alternatives to single-use plastic and other harmful synthetic materials. Some recent initiatives include reusing plastic bottles to make PPE, using PPE waste to make beds, converting vegetable matter to create compostable shopping bags, and using origami designs to extend the life and use of traditional clothing. However, to create sustainable change, we also need more accountability. We need people at all levels who are fully aware of the issues and take responsibility for their actions (SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions). We need to create cultural shifts in societies everywhere where one person’s waste is not considered another person’s problem. We need more people asking, “Where does my waste go?” and feel a sense of discomfort at the answer.






Featured photo by Beth Jnr on Unsplash



Coláiste Dhúlaigh Series: Why heavy rain is bad news for swimmers

Coláiste Dhúlaigh Series: Why heavy rain is bad news for swimmers



Coláiste Dhúlaigh series: Why heavy rain is bad news for swimmers

bring back our girls protest in nyc
Elizabeth Quinn

16th April 2021


This series is in collaboration with first-year Investigate Journalism students in Coláiste Dhúlaigh CFE


A nice day for a dip

19 June 2020 was the first dry day after a few days of intense thunderstorms. Ireland is in lockdown but Dubliners lucky enough to live within 2kms of the sea can take advantage of our beautiful sandy beaches. On Dollymount, Portmarnock, and Sandymount beaches, signs have been erected. Perplexed would be swimmers, on seeing the sign, wonder how heavy rainfall makes the sea dirty.


What’s going on at Ringsend Wastewater Treatment Plant?

Everyone knows that the waste from your house goes down the sewers into the pipes is carried to Ringsend is treated and then released into the sea.


But we may not know that the use of combined sewage outlet pipes means that rain that goes into the drains at the side of the roads is also emptied into the same pipe.


So, after heavy rainfall, Ringsend treatment plant must make a decision. They can open the storm water overflows and discharge the untreated excess from the sewer directly into the sea or do nothing and risk the treatment plant becoming inundated and homes and streets being flooded with sewage.


Images taken from EPA Urban Wastewater Report (Figure 8: Storm water overflow.):


Irish Water advise that by releasing the storm water into the sea that this wastewater is highly diluted with rainwater and has been screened and settled to remove debris. However, they still must notify the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and in conjunction with DCC (Dublin City Council) and the HSE (Health Service Executive) take the decision to prohibit bathing, as a precaution.


Precautionary Notices

The EPA Urban Wastewater report published in November 2020 states that: “A precautionary approach is taken when reporting bathing water pollution incidents, meaning that not all incidents actually result in a deterioration in water quality. This precautionary approach is taken to protect bathers’ health. “


Once the precautionary notice is issued, it cannot be lifted until a second sample is tested. This is frustrating for frequent swimmers like, Green Party Councillor, Donna Cooney, who told me that: “currently testing has to go to a lab and can take 48hrs to 3 days to get a result. Often the water turns out to have been ok during that time, but bathing has been prohibited as they err on the side of caution. What’s worse is when you find out you have been swimming in contaminated water for up to 3 days and didn’t know it.”


Testing of Bathing Water

DCC monitor the bathing water quality and during the 14 weeks of the bathing season from 1 June to 15 September, they take 20 samples.


We need more frequent testing. This is a view shared by local campaigners Save Our Seas who started an online petition calling for the water to be tested daily. So far, they have 18,500 signatures. Their slogan is “heavy rainfall = sewage dump into Dublin Bay.”


Emily Williamson of EPA told me, that during the overflow incident on 17 June (the one that caused the warning notices on the beaches on the 19th) Irish Water notified them that it had discharged 49.8 million litres of untreated waste water. Enough to fill 20 Olympic sized swimming pools.


This was just one of 7 discharges, during the bathing season, of untreated water from Ringsend. Figures supplied in the DCC 2020 Bathing Water Report advise that bathing was prohibited on Dollymount for 5 days in June, 8 days in July and 21 days during August and September.


I asked Irish Water if they could tell me the amounts of untreated wastewater discharged each time, but they could only furnish this information upon receipt of an Access to Information on the Environment Request (AIE).


Last year, Stephen McDermott of The Journal found out through an AIE request from Irish Water that: “a total of 320 million litres of untreated wastewater was discharged from storm holding tanks at Ringsend over 7 occasions in 2019.” Enough to fill 128 Olympic sized swimming pools.


Why can’t Ringsend cope?

The Ringsend plant treats approximately 44% of Ireland’s public wastewater, treating the whole of Dublin and parts of Meath. It has a capacity to treat wastewater for approximately 1.64 million people, but there are approximately 2 to 2.4 million users


The capacity is not big enough, even before it rains, and it is failing to meet national and EU treatment standards.


What is Irish Water doing to fix it?

Irish Water say that work on the plant to add capacity for an extra 400,000 population will be completed in 2021. Further works to bring it up to capacity to meet 2.4 million population will be completed by 2025.


In the meantime, they are proposing an investment of €500 million to build another treatment plant to relieve pressure on Ringsend. The new plant would be in Clonshaugh in north Dublin. It would take wastewater from the Blanchardstown area, treat it in Clonshaugh and then pipe it to the coast. The pipe would enter the sea near Baldoyle and continue out beyond Ireland’s Eye where the treated wastewater would be discharged.


Planning permission was granted but following a successful appeal in November 2020 by Portmarnock residents the permission was overturned.


What is the government doing?

Minister for Housing, Darragh O’Brien met with Irish Water in November following release of the EPA report. The minister has cleared €100 million extra for Irish Water capital spending. As he said to Kevin O’Sullivan in the Irish Times: “I am committed to giving funding so projects can proceed and catch up if they need to.”


New type of testing

Donna Cooney says: “The testing period should be extended as more people are now swimming all year round. Testing should be done every day, even a quick test will give an indication.”


Ruth Clinton, water innovation officer at the Water Institute – Dublin City University (DCU), told me that to manage the bathing areas and inform the public quickly of the presence of “faecal pollution” they had developed: “a rapid on-site test for E. coli detection and successfully tried and tested on environmental water samples. This test has a time-to-result of less than 75 min.”


The results of this on-site assessment of water quality could work in tandem with the current alert systems and give an early indication of pollution.


Clinton, advised: “that the technology is at an early stage of development and that they are currently applying for funding to develop it further.”


Can’t get into the sea but what about the beach?

Donna Cooney says “people often don’t realise that when the tide goes out the sand left behind is contaminated and could pose a health risk to kids playing in the sand, pregnant women, people with immune deficiency, and pets.”


Climate Case Ireland: Paving the way for improved environmental rights?

Climate Case Ireland: Paving the way for improved environmental rights?


Climate Case Ireland: Paving the way for improved environmental rights?

slogan on globe saying "happy earth day"
Orla Leahy

22nd April 2021



Summer 2020 saw the emergence of a “landmark judgment”, Climate Case Ireland, which highlighted the flaws in Ireland’s National Mitigation Plan. In adopting the Plan, the Irish government were failing to meet the requirements of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, and it was determined that the plan ought to be quashed. Of course, this was the primary result of the influential case but what of a more secondary issue, the constitutional right to a healthy environment?


It was recognised in the High Court in Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE)’s 2017 case that the unwritten constitutional right to an environment consistent with human dignity exists.


“On the other hand, in Climate Case Ireland, the judiciary claimed that the right to a healthy environment could not be “derived from” the constitution. Such an unenumerated right under the constitutional right to life and bodily integrity would be “superfluous”, and simply too “vague” if it failed to extend beyond rights previously established.”

That noted, learned academics argue that the Supreme Court has left the doors open for further rights-based arguments in litigation. The European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 has given the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) a certain legal weight in Ireland. While there is regrettably no explicit right to a healthy environment under the ECHR, FIE claimed that the National Mitigation Plan, by allowing emissions to rise, breached Articles 2 and 8 of the ECHR by breaching their right to life, their right to bodily integrity and their right to an environment consistent with human dignity respectively in Climate Case Ireland. This argument did not come to fruition as FIE did not meet the criteria to classify as a victim under Article 34 of the ECHR. 


Similarly, Non-Governmental Organisations in other European countries have failed to classify as victims under Article 34. In the Urgenda case, it was established that the government of the Netherlands had an obligation to reduce carbon emissions by 25% by the end of 2020, in comparison with 1990 levels. Urgenda utilised Articles 2 and 8 of the ECHR to raise the issue of their government failing to meet their environmental obligations. However, they were not able to rely on the ECHR, as they did not classify as a victim under the ECHR, but were instead able to rely on the Dutch Civil Code. 


Perhaps further litigation with a private person (a victim under Article 34, ECHR), as suggested in Climate Case Ireland, may lead to the recognition of a constitutional right to a healthy environment. This begs the question, what would be the benefits to recognition of such a right?



“By 2013, over 100 countries had constitutionally ratified the right to a healthy environment. In a European context, better environmental protection has ensued.”

In a European context, better environmental protection has ensued. For example, in Taskin v. Turkey, the plaintiff’s Turkish constitutional right to a healthy environment, coupled with Articles 2 and 8 of the ECHR allowed the plaintiff to succeed in showing that their right to a healthy environment had been breached. 


There have been Irish examples of situations where such a constitutional right might have led to better environmental protection. In 2019, a terrible act of ecocide occurred, destroying the Tallaght Wetlands in Dublin. If such a right were in existence, and the public possessed knowledge of their right, would the pouring of silt over the wetlands even have been considered? Would the Tallaght locals have had legal standing or locus standi to make a case for breach of a fundamental right? Similarly, in the 1988 case of Hanrahan v. Merck Sharp and Dohme Limited, Hanrahan was awarded damages for injury suffered from the respondent’s factory emissions. The Supreme Court determined that too much weight had been given to scientific evidence in the High Court and not enough to the locals’ direct evidence of the pollution. Could this case have been more easily resolved with a constitutional right or would the pollution have even occurred?


Climate Case Ireland has paved the way for further climate-based litigation in Ireland and there is the opportunity for us to see stronger, more renowned environmental protection than before, should we ratify the constitutional right to a healthy environment. Articles 2 and 8 of the ECHR provide a strong argument for enforcing the right, but only where a victim, under Article 34, is a litigant. Other European countries are experiencing improved protection and there have been examples in Ireland where such a constitutional right would have been instrumental in preserving our environment. There is only one remaining question, will Ireland join over 100 countries worldwide in amending our constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, to ratify improved environmental rights?





Featured photo created using Canva



Air pollution- a threat to human rights

Air pollution- a threat to human rights



Air pollution- a threat to human rights

bring back our girls protest in nyc
Elizabeth Quinn

19th March 2021


Air pollution is a pervasive problem which affects the world’s population at an alarming rate. 90% of persons live in places where air quality fails to meet established guidelines by the WHO. It is responsible for 7 million premature deaths annually, including approximately 600,000 children. Air pollution threatens the right to life, health and the right to live in a safe, clean and healthy environment. Air pollution has come to be an issue which is examined by courts and legal scholars in serval jurisdictions.


Some states explicitly recognize the right to breathe clean air. This is the case in the Philippines under the Clean Air Act. The right is also recognized at subnational level in some Countries. The state Constitutions of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts recognize this right. Courts in other Countries have read the right to breathe clean air into their constitutions as something integral to the right to life and the right to health. Without clean air these rights cannot be realized. The right to breathe clean air is not acknowledged in Irish law.


Many of the same activities which contribute to climate change harm air quality. Air quality is degraded by ambient and household air pollution which also have a direct effect on climate change. Fine particulate air pollution is the largest environmental risk to health worldwide but does not affect everyone equally. Vulnerable populations are more at risk of being affected negatively from air pollution. Fine particles can be breathed into the lungs and passed into ones bloodstream. Recently, the burning of plastic has been found to be polluting the air in India creating thick smog which have an impact on people’s health.


At the international level air pollution could fit under the right to a safe, clean and healthy environment. The right to a safe, clean and healthy environment is not included in the main human rights treaties reflecting the time that they were written in- when the science and evidence on the impacts of climate change were mostly unknown. There is now a debate at international level whether the right should be considered an autonomous one. Adding this right would give claimants a tool to state that air pollution is a direct violation of their right to a safe, clean and healthy environment and means that they would not have to shoehorn their claims into other rights violations such as considering air pollution as a violation of the right to life.


“In France, a Bangladeshi man’s deportation order was overturned after acknowledging that the air quality in Bangladesh would pose a threat to his life and health in a legal first.”


In Ireland the right to a safe, clean and healthy environment is not recognized in law. In FIE v Ireland the Supreme Court argued that the right could not be derived from the Irish constitution and was too vague and ill-defined. This argumentation is not convincing as it could be applied to a litany of human rights. The Court also stated that other rights can be utilized when looking at environmental damage such as the right to life. Although this is true it ignores the fact that where the right exists it has been proven to contribute to strong environmental performance including cleaner air.


Air pollution also threatens the right to life and the right to health- two cases which have been in the news recently exemplify this.


In the UK the death of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah was recognised for the first time as one where air pollution ‘made a material contribution’. Ella had a rare type of asthma and was vulnerable to air pollution. Levels of N02 near her home exceeded the WHO and EU guidelines. As the Court was a coroner’s court established to inquire into the causes and circumstances of death the ruling is not a legal precedent but may have wide ranging impacts as the first case to formally recognise that air pollution was a contributing factor to her death.


In France, a Bangladeshi man’s deportation order was overturned after acknowledging that the air quality in Bangladesh would pose a threat to his life and health in a legal first. The man had asthma and the court took into consideration his condition. They noted that the medication he was taking in France was not available in Bangladesh and that the health system could not provide the man with the night time ventilation system outside of hospital. Also taken into consideration was the fact that his respiratory capacity had increased from 57% in 2013 to 70% in 2018. These reasons meant that returning the man to Bangladesh would put his life at risk and the court stated that “respiratory failure as a result of an asthma attack would be almost inevitable”. This case may set a precedent and mean that the courts will engage more in environmental matters when considering migration matters.


It is clear that clean air affects the enjoyment of our rights. Without clean air our right to health, life and the right to a safe clean and healthy environment are jeopardized. States must act to ensure our rights are not threatened by the air we breathe.


The UN Environment Programme’s Young Champions of the Earth 2020

The UN Environment Programme’s Young Champions of the Earth 2020



The UN Environment Programme’s Young Champions of the Earth 2020

a girl at a UN meeting with a laptop sticker that says 'youth power'
olivia moore

Michaela Waters

25th February 2021


The United Nations Environment Programme has recently announced their Young Champions of the Earth winners for 2020. There are seven amazing individuals recognised as environmental innovators in their local communities.


The first winner, Fatemah “Fatima” Alzelzela is a 24-year-old female electrical engineer from Kuwait. She is the founder of the Eco-Star project, which she launched in her last year of studies. Although Kuwait holds the title of one of the richest countries in the world, it, unfortunately, does not have the best environmental health. They don’t have an efficient waste system. Recycling is not utilised as 90% of waste goes to one of the eighteen landfills. This means only 10% is reused to encourage a more sustainable, less wasteful living environment. Kuwait also suffers from air pollution and currently offers limited functioning green areas. Eco-Star has attempted to combat this by assembling a team focused on the collection of recyclable materials and liaising with recycling factories. Eco-Star works with agricultural companies, in exchange for waste, they give plants and trees to individuals and organisations in Kuwait. Eco-Star has covered a huge amount of more than two-thousand waste-receiving operations like schools, companies and restaurants. This project sounds absolutely amazing as it has focused on changing the mindset surrounding waste. Instead of looking at waste negatively, Eco-Star is changing the view of recyclable waste as a resource to be saved and utilised.


The next winner, Lefteris Arapakis, is a 26-year-old Greek Entrepreneur, a co-founder of Enaleia. The fishing sector is personal for Lefteris as he belongs to a five-generation family of fishermen. Through Enaleia, a school for professional fishing has been created. Mediterranean fishermen have commonly experienced getting plastic in their nets instead of fish. Through the professional fishing schools, a plastic clean-up of the sea has been introduced, encouraging new and old fishermen to participate as it lets the declining fish stocks to recover and increase. The fishermen also receive an income from their plastic they haul in instead of fish. The Mediterranean CleanUp has also cleverly benefited from the collected marine waste, by working with companies to make eco-friendly products like t-shirts and socks. Currently, they remove more than 1.5 tonnes of plastic each week, that is the weight of a Great White Shark and a half.


The third winner, Max Hidalgo Quinto is a 30-year-old scientist from Peru. Water is essential for human survival as our body is made up of 60% water. Max has created YAWA, a portable, sustainable technology which has the capacity of getting up to three-hundred litres of water every day from humidity and mist in the air. This is an innovative way of providing access to drinking water in areas that may not have clean water and providing alternative water to use for agriculture purposes. YAWA will be a valuable resource for the future as it is expected that thirty-three countries will have water shortages in 2040, which is only nineteen years away.


The fourth winner, Niria Alicia Garcia is a 28-year-old indigenous environmental activist from America. She is studying for a Masters in Human Rights at Columbia University. Run4Salmon is a conservation project that has been led by indigenous people for the past four years. Indigenous people make up less than 5% of the global population however they are responsible for over 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Climate change has posed a risk for many species of extinction, specifically the endangered Chinook salmon that make a 300-mile journey (five hours in a car!) along California. This project strives to create campaigns, advocate and deliver an educational programme on indigenous people. Run4Salmon has spoken to government officials, lawyers and members of the public. Currently, they are working on a virtual reality tour for people to access online.


“YAWA will be a valuable resource for the future as it is expected that thirty-three countries will have water shortages in 2040, which is only nineteen years away.”


The fifth winner, Nzambi Matee is a 29-year-old engineer from Kenya. He has created Gjenge Makers whose mission is to build a greener, more sustainable Kenya. Kenya has a huge housing problem, which is tackled through Gjenge Makers activity of converting plastic waste (bottle tops and seals) and sand into cheaper building materials. They have partnered with plastic manufacturers in the beverage and pharmaceutical industries to collect scraps. They have created an income for over one-hundred-and-twelve people, the majority of which being women and youth groups who are involved in the production process. The alternative building materials that are produced have been successful and are received very positively in Kenya. Currently, they have a higher demand than they can produce as the main challenge of theirs is increasing their production quantity. Gjenge Makers has been responsible for recycling nearly 500 kg of plastic waste a day and produce about five-hundred to one-thousand bricks per day!


The sixth winner, Vidyut Mohan is a 29-year-old Indian entrepreneur. Takachar, has focused their efforts on increasing the level of waste that is converted into products. The social enterprise has allowed farmers to earn an extra income through their crop residue, up to 40% more! Through the prevention of burning their waste, Takachar’s work also reduces air pollution. By 2030, 300 million farmers will be impacted and Takachar will create $4 billion a year of extra income and jobs for local people. Takachar will also mitigate one gigaton a year of carbon dioxide, CO2, which is equal to 1,000,000,000,000 kilograms.


The seventh winner, last but not least, Xiaoyuan Ren, is a 29-year-old Chinese environmental engineer. She has founded MyH2O, a data platform for clean water in China. Shockingly, over 300 million people in rural China still do not have regular access to clean drinking water. Lack of information has made this issue hard to tackle, as clean water providers don’t know where their services are needed most. MyH2O Water Information Network, addresses this problem by collecting clean water data and aiming to connect water resources with rural communities. MyH20 has grown its network to over one-hundred field teams covering over three-thousand-eight-hundred datasets in nearly one-thousand villages across twenty-six provinces in China. They have successfully provided clean water stations in rural villages to tens of thousands of villagers!



Featured Photo by United Nations Photo on Flickr


Climate in the courtroom

Climate in the courtroom



Climate in the courtroom 

ice in Norway
Elizabeth Quinn

Elizabeth Quinn

4th February 2021


Climate change is one of the most urgent issues of our time. As a result, there has been an explosion of climate litigation since 2015. This litigation frames climate change as a threat to human rights. The uptake in cases can be seen as a direct consequence of inaction by governments on the issue. As of May 2019 more than 1,300 climate related litigation has been identified in global climate litigation spanning over 28 countries and 4 supranational jurisdictions. This number will continue to rise if inaction persists.


The first case to articulate a human rights-based approach to climate change was Leghari v Pakistan. In this case, a Pakistani farmer affected by climate change sued the national government of Pakistan for failure to implement the Climate Change Policy 2012 and the associated implementation framework. The legal argumentation was based on Pakistan’s constitution. He argued that failure to adopt the plan breached his fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to life and inviolability of human dignity. The Court found in his favour and acknowledged that while Pakistan was not a major global emitter, strong action was needed in order to allow for climate justice which requires global accountability. As a result of this case, a climate change commission was created and concrete goals were set for long term actions. This case inspired others in different jurisdictions.


Possibly the most famous case it inspired is that of Urgenda. In Urgenda it was argued using a human rights framework that the Dutch state was obliged to reduce emissions by at least 25% compared to 1990 levels. This was required in order to prevent a violation of the right to life and the right to respect for private and family life pursuant to A.2 and A.8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The governments’ arguments that the risks are not specific enough, of a global nature and the ECHR does not specifically protect a right to a healthy environment were all rejected by the court. They were rejected as there was a common ground on the basis of reductions needed which was reflected in the IPCC climate reports and the Paris Agreement. The Supreme court also reached their conclusion by stating that A.2 and A.8 could be argued in the domestic court and meant that the state has positive obligations to take measures against the risk of dangerous climate change. The outcome of the case was that the court required the Dutch state to take measures to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in line with international standards. The implementation of this plan remains within the government powers, therefore upholding the separation of powers doctrine. As the case was heard in the Dutch Supreme court there is no binding effect beyond the Netherlands however it has had influence in other countries.


This influence was seen in Climate case Ireland. This case argued that Ireland’s national mitigation plan to tackle climate change was inadequate and did not comply with law as it did not set out how the state would transition to a low carbon economy by 2050, in-line with the climate action and low carbon development act 2015. The applicants also argued, inspired by Urgenda that the mitigation plan violated human rights, namely A.2 and A.8 of the ECHR. The case won on the legality ground at the Supreme Court but failed on the human rights argumentation. The failure of human rights basis was directly linked to the issue of standing. Standing is a procedural requirement and refers to the courts competence to hear and review a case. Without it a case cannot proceed. As Ireland does not allow a petition by individuals on behalf of a public interest and a particular individual was not joined to the case the human rights argument was rejected. The Court did leave the door open for a case to be taken by an individual applicant in the future as they stated that the arguments would have been considered had an individual been joined to the proceedings. This may not be accessible to most due to the prohibitive costs of the Irish legal system. So, although the case was won it was not on the basis of the human rights approach which has been highlighted in other cases.


European Court of Human Rights by CherryX on Wikipedia Commons



Cases are therefore not always successful based on human rights argumentation. This can be seen in the recent case of the People v Arctic Oil. This case was taken by Greenpeace Nordic Association and Nature and Youth (Young Friends of the Earth Norway) and reached the Supreme Court. It primarily challenged the grant of licenses to oil and gas companies to explore additional petroleum in the South Barents Sea. The applicants argued that allowing this exploitation was a failure to protect human rights, namely the right to a healthy environment enshrined in the constitution. The Supreme court ruled that Norway had not violated these rights when they handed out licenses for oil and gas exploration in 2016. The court stated that there was enough of a link between the granting of licenses and the breach of human rights as there was no real and immediate risk of harm to life and no direct and immediate link between the decision and the resulting harm. This case has been criticised as a failure of the Supreme Court to protect the environment and uphold the constitution. Greenpeace has stated that they are now considering an application before the European Court of Human Rights.


The European Court of Human Rights is the strictest regional regime in terms of standing before the court. In order to bring a case, one must show that they are a victim personally affected and the violation of rights must have occurred unless there are exceptional circumstances. This means that groups of people and communities who are affected by climate change cannot bring claims under the ECHR without showing that there is or will be a direct serious impact on a particular person. This is obviously problematic in climate cases where the impacts are not well defined and are felt by everyone equally.


However, there is hope that the court will begin to take climate change cases. Currently, there is a case pending before the European Court in which six young children and young adults from Portugal have issued an application against 33 Council of Europe Member states in respect of the profound impact that climate change is having on them (Youth4climate). Climate litigation is a powerful way for younger generations to have a voice in policy when they are not of age to vote.


The case goes beyond national level and alleges that the states share responsibility for existing and future harms caused by climate change and that the court should analyse whether states are doing their ‘fair share’ to mitigate climate change impacts. The case also takes a human rights-based approach and argues under A.2, A.8 and A.14 (right to be free from discrimination- in this case age discrimination) of the convention. When the case was communicated to the Court, the Court also stated that the right to freedom from ill-treatment under A.3 may also be applicable. This would be the first time A.3 on ill treatment would be considered in relation to a climate issue.


The court has communicated the case to the defendant countries and a response is expected by February 2021. It is predictable that the governments will challenge this case, especially with regard to standing. The case shows that creative legal thinking is needed when there are  inconsistencies in how domestic courts are applying the ECHR. If the case is successful, it will provide a baseline and consistent way for states to interpret their positive obligations in terms of climate change mitigation. Time will tell what will happen.


When considering the impact of these cases, it should be borne in mind that they are not the silver bullet to solving the climate crisis. A multifaceted approach is needed if climate change is to be dealt with in a holistic manner. These cases are only one piece of the puzzle.



Featured photo by United Nations Photo on Flickr