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"Now we sue the state" Aurora climate litigation in Sweden: At the confluence of state, science and social mobilisation

demonstration in Stockholm. Photo.
The organisation, Aurora, and their many supporters, wound their way in demonstration through central Stockholm from the Swedish parliament buildings to Stockholm District Court to waves of encouragement from bystanders and a sizable media contingent.

On 25 November, after two years of intense legal preparations, the youth organsation Aurora, submitted a litigation against the Swedish state for its insufficient climate policies – the very first of its kind in Sweden.

Mark Connaughtonresearch assistant at LUCSUS, and member of the GAMES research project, a collaborative project led by LUCSUS with Copenhagen University and Imperial College London which explores the link between climate science, social mobilisation and climate litigation, was in Stockholm to observe the demonstration in support of the litigation.

He explains that Aurora’s key claim is that young people under 26 living in Sweden are at risk of having their human rights violated by the negative effects of climate change. Aurora argues that the Swedish state has a responsibility to mitigate this risk in order to protect rights to life, physical and mental health, dignity, well-being, home and property enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Sweden is a signatory. They have also invoked the Swedish Constitution, which states that the state shall promote sustainable development to provide a good environment for present and future generations.

– The case is in keeping with the ‘rights-turn’ in climate litigation, where human rights are used to “provide remedies where environmental law does not”. This argument has been well-established in previous environmental court cases, says Mark Connaughton.

He adds:

–  According to the claim, the Swedish state must drastically reduce emissions and protect carbon-absorbing natural ecosystems in order to achieve its fair share of climate mitigation. Here the science is clear that the current Swedish climate mitigation policies are falling well short of achieving the 1.5 °C target to prevent severe climate impacts as set out in the Paris Agreement. 

Mark Connaughton notes that the Aurora litigation suit resembles other cases across Europe, particularly the Urgenda case, which managed to steer the Dutch state to implement stricter mitigation measures. It successfully argued that the Netherlands is knowingly exposing its own citizens to danger and infringed on the human rights of its citizens due to its insufficient climate mitigation policies. Meanwhile, a case brought by six young plaintiffs in Portugal, is awaiting hearing at the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that their human rights are being infringed by European member states who have not agreed on what is their fair share of climate change mitigation.

The Aurora lawsuit is of special interest for the GAMES research team.

– This lawsuit presents precisely the mobilisation of the law, activism and important scientific evidence that we are interested in our project. We aim to develop an understanding of the role of climate attribution science in court cases by collaborating with over 30 organisations involved in climate litigation globally, says Mark Connaughton.

The central research questions within the project are: why social movements are turning to the courts, and the significance of the social movement on proceedings within the courtroom; what constitutes success; and what effect the science used by organisations can in turn have on social mobilisation for climate action.

– To see Aurora effectively mobilise legal arguments and robust scientific evidence and observe them take to the streets, offers us indirect insights into the role of climate litigation in transformations, and direct engagement in supporting the development of a successful court case, concludes Mark Connaughton.

Read more about the organisation Aurora on their website