Supreme Court of Brazil Rules Government Must Take Action on Climate, as a Fundamental Human Right

ON 07/20/2022 AT 02:46 AM

In a landmark decision, Brazil’s highest court has ruled that the 2015 Paris Climate Change Accords, which Brazil is a party to, constitute a human rights treaty, with major implications for the country. The court has also ordered the government to reactivate the country\'s long dormant climate action fund and national climate policy.

Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest

A 2018 image showing illegal logging on Pirititi indigenous lands in the Amazon rainforest in 2018. Out-of-control logging is just one of many causes of the rapid destruction of the rainforest, which in Brazil is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. A Supreme Court decision could force the government to do something about this. Photo: quapan, CC

The case which was ruled on last week had been launched in 2020 against the Brazilian government by the Workers’ Party, Socialism and Liberty Party, Brazilian Socialist Party, and Sustainability Network.

The foundation for the case dates back to the government’s creation of Fundo Clima. Authorized in 2009 and still officially in place, the fund is explicitly part of the country’s National Climate Change Policy. It was supposed to provide money to support projects to, among other things:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution for transportation
  • Supporting projects which increase the sustainability of cities
  • Finance the purchase and operation of machinery and equipment with higher efficiency
  • Invest in local renewable energy production
  • Improve solid waste management as part of an overall climate management approach
  • Support sustainable forestry projects

The plaintiffs in the case charged that though the climate fund was part of the national climate policy, which in turn supported the Paris Climate Change Agreements, that government had ceased to prepare plans to support the national climate policy and that the Fundo Clima was no longer in operation as of 2019. The plaintiffs asserted this was in violation both of national law and the Paris Accords Agreement, a treaty to which it was a signatory nation.

The court heard public arguments in the case in September 2020. Besides representatives of the plaintiffs, the hearing also included academic scholars, climate scientists, and individuals representing the Indigenous peoples of Brazil.

In a decision made on July 4, 2022, and released July 11, 2022, ten of eleven judges on the court sided with the plaintiffs and ordered the country to respond.

In that decision, supported by ten of the eleven Supreme Court justices presiding, the judgment noted that Brazil had done virtually nothing to follow up on its climate change plans. Instead, as Justice Roberto Barroso noted in the decision, the government continues to accelerate destruction of the Amazon Rainforest and other forests, despite that such deforestation constitutes the single biggest source of emissions in the country.

The court said that despite the climate fund and the projects associated with it constitute the primary means by which the county, which is the fifth largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter in the world, can reduce their GHG emissions, the country’s action constituted a breach of the national constitution “by omission”. That constitution requires the nation to keep its environment safe — which includes safe from the climate crisis — for the current and future citizens of Brazil.

The judgment also noted that the Paris Accords, for however much they have proven to be powerless to enforce, constitute a unique type of treaty and that the government of Brazil must take note of that.

"Treaties on environmental law are a type of human rights treaty,” the ruling said, clearly delineating the constitutional mandate the government must enforce regarding the Paris Agreement.

“For that reason, [those types of treaties] enjoy supranational status,” the ruling continued. “There is therefore no legally valid option to simply omit to combat climate change.”

The court concluded that the national government of Brazil must immediately reactivate Fundo Clima. It must also fund it and prepare annual plans for the use of those funds, in line with the Paris Accords and the national climate policy.

The Supreme Court has two other climate-related actions it has still not ruled on. One involves the Amazon Fund, a preservation financial instrument designed to protect the Amazon Rainforest. The second demands the government revive the 2004 Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Amazon. Like Fundo Clima and the Amazon Fund, this plan includes financing and detailed plans to address how to minimize deforestation.

Publisher's Commentary:

With the criminal President Jair Bolsonaro in charge, few on the winning side of the current Supreme Court case have much faith that the decision will result in any change in government policy. Voting Bolsonaro out may not accomplish much either because Brazil's entire political system is rotten and designed to keep the same criminal class in power.

For humanity to end its downward spiral towards global collapse of civilization and mass extinction, a complete change in the fundamental concept of governance is essential.

  1. Government must be merely a service, not a ruler or leader.
  2. Abolish politicians, political parties, lobbyists, political advertising and public sector labor unions. They undermine democracy and concentrate power into the wrong hands.
  3. Give the people (not corporations) the ability to make major decisions with secure and audited e-voting. The people have greater wisdom than the ruling elite believe them to have and will learn from their mistakes.
  4. Create a truly unbiased and free press that presents all valid perspectives. Criminalize media fraud.

With the Supreme Court's recognition that the Paris Accords is a supranational responsibility and the fact that the Amazon is critical to the entire planet, it may be time for an international force to start defending the Amazon and its indigenous peoples. 

It is also time for each of us to stop paying for the destruction of the Amazon with our eating habits and transition to a healthy whole-food plant based diet. Most destruction of the Amazon is to support the meat industry and there is simply no nutritional requirement for humans to eat meat and every reason not to.