Opening a Climate Bar Association (CBA) conference (21 January), Ms Justice Marie Baker of the Supreme Court said that climate should no longer be seen as a specialist area confined to big environmental law and planning cases, because it was something that impacted all of our lives.
Ancient boundary, fishing, riparian, and other rights, as well as a broader international context, all now had a bearing on environmental law, the judge said.
The conference title ‘Towards a Model Environmental Law’ encompassed the common good, across social and legal matters, the preservation of life and property, and the general inter-connectedness of life, she added.
Introducing the conference, barrister Clíona Kimber said that the CBA had concluded that a specialist environmental court was the way forward, adding that there were some Government plans afoot for such a development.
Opening the conference, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that climate was a pressing issue for 85% of Irish people.
The pandemic had brought about a renewed appreciation of the natural world, as those confined to their own localities became more familiar with rivers, beaches, parks, bogs and local woods, he said.
The lockdown also gave time for reflection on what he called the “relentless global onslaught” on our surroundings.
“We understand now the limits of the exploitative model that we have pursued and the urgent need to chart a different course,” he added.
An appropriate legislative framework would be part of the journey towards a more sustainable Ireland, the Taoiseach said, as the country halved its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
The legal profession and judiciary had a duty in upholding environmental protections offered by EU legislation, he said, and in ensuring that the public interest in protecting the environment was vindicated, while respecting the democratic mandate to deliver social and economic needs of citizens.
“We need to win the battle for hearts and minds rather than present climate action as something imposed from outside, or above,” the Taoiseach said.