On March 24, 2021, 214 young people aged between 15 and 28 years old filed a lawsuit against the Mexican Congress and the President of Mexico challenging the amendments to the 2021 Electric Industry Law. The amendments, in general: (i) eliminate the obligation to dispatch the cheapest energy first and give priority in the process to the Federal Electricity Commission’s (CFE) coal and fuel oil-fired power plants, and (ii) eliminate the purchase of basic electricity by the CFE through long-term auctions. Before the amendments, the energy purchased in the auctions and the energy dispatched first was primarily renewable energy. This case raises the same claims as Nuestros Derechos al Futuro y Medio Ambiente Sano et. al., v. Mexico, with youth acting as plaintiffs, rather than civil associations.
The plaintiffs argue that the Mexican State is constitutionally obligated to mitigate and adapt to climate change, which necessarily implies designing and implementing an energy policy that favors the gradual substitution of fossil fuels for renewable energy. The obligation to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy in the generation of electricity is based on Article 25 of the Constitution, in connection with the 17th and 18th transitory articles of the Decree of Constitutional Energy Reforms of 2013.
The plaintiffs argue that the challenged amendments violate the constitutional right to a healthy environment found in Article 4. Specifically, the plaintiffs claim that the transition to renewables in the electricity sector guarantees the exercise of the right to a healthy environment and is a necessary condition for Mexico to comply with its international commitments under the Paris Agreement. In its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), Mexico committed to a 22% reduction of GHG emissions by 2030, and the transition to renewables formed a critical piece of this commitment. The plaintiffs requested the judge to declare the amendments unconstitutional and to force the responsible authorities to comply with their constitutional obligations regarding energy transition and climate change mitigation policies. After the 2013 Constitutional Energy Reform, the Energy Transition Law set generation targets: 25% clean energy generation by 2018, 30% by 2021, and 35% by 2024, with the objective of significant reduction of CO2 emissions to mitigate climate change.
On March 26, 2021, the District Court in Administrative Matters dismissed the case for a lack of standing. In Mexico, to file an amparo lawsuit (as in this case), the plaintiffs must prove that they have a personal, qualified, current, real, and legally relevant interest, which can be translated, if successful, into a legal benefit in favor of the plaintiff. The plaintiffs must prove that they are in a situation that differentiates them from the rest of society, and they must prove that their human rights are being directly affected.
The Court reasoned that the plaintiffs did not meet this standard, because the negative effects that the plaintiffs could suffer as a consequence of the environmental damage do not place them in a special situation or give them a differentiated grievance. In other words, these consequences would be suffered by any Mexican, and not by the plaintiffs in particular.
On April 9, 2021, the plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Collegiate Tribunal arguing that they are in a special situation in the legal system and, therefore, have a differentiated grievance from the rest of the society. The plaintiffs, as young people, argue that they will suffer greater consequences of climate change in the future, and therefore have a particular interest in defending their right to a healthy environment. Not recognizing their legal standing to demand effective climate change mitigation policies from their authorities means, in practice, closing the doors of access to constitutional justice.
On May 12, 2021, the plaintiffs filed a Request to the Supreme Court of Justice to exercise the power of attraction (Solicitud de Ejecricio de la Facultad de Atracción or SEFA in Spanish) to request the Circuit Collegiate Tribunal to send the appeal to the Supreme Court of Justice. The appeal is based on the legal standing of young people in environmental cases to collectively demand action in case of a violation of the right to a healthy environment, in particular the right to a safe climate. This is the first case to reach the Mexican Supreme Court making the claim that young people have legal standing to sue the State in climate change cases, because young people are the ones who will suffer greater climate consequences in the future.
On June 29, 2022, the Supreme Court decided to hear the appeal. On December 7, 2022, the Supreme Court decided that the plaintiffs did not have legal standing to file the lawsuit against the amendments to the Electric Industry Law, because they are not in a special position that differentiates them from the rest of the society. Therefore, the Court confirmed the Judge’s decision to dismiss the case for lack of standing.