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ECtHR throws out two climate-change cases

09 Apr 2024 / environment Print

ECtHR throws out two climate-change cases

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has delivered a ruling on a case taken by Swiss women who had argued that their governments put them at risk of dying during heatwaves because of inadequate climate-change mitigation.

The ECtHR ruled that Switzerland's failure to meet past greenhouse-gas reduction targets had violated some human rights.

The ECtHR delivered Grand Chamber rulings in three climate change cases today (9 April).

Living conditions

The case Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v Switzerland concerned a complaint by four women and a Swiss association, Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz, whose members are concerned about the consequences of global warming on their living conditions and health.

The ECtHR found that the European Convention on Human Rights encompasses a right to effective protection by authorities from the serious adverse effects of climate change on lives, health, wellbeing, and quality of life.

However, it held that the four individual applicants did not fulfil the victim-status criteria under article 34, and declared their complaints inadmissible.

The applicant association, in contrast, had the right to bring a complaint. The ECtHR held that there had been a violation of the right to respect for private and family life, and that there had been a violation of the right to access to the court.

The court found that the Swiss Confederation had failed to comply with its duties (“positive obligations”) concerning climate change.

However, the Strasbourg court threw out two other similar cases, the first brought by six Portuguese youth against 32 European governments, and another by a former French mayor against the French Government.

Carême v France concerned a complaint by a former inhabitant and mayor of the municipality of Grande-Synthe, who submitted that France had taken insufficient steps to prevent global warming, and that this failure had violated the right to life and the right to respect for private and family life.

Victim status

The court declared the application inadmissible, on the ground that the applicant did not have victim status within the meaning of article 34 of the convention.

The case Duarte Agostinho and Others v Portugal and 32 Others concerned the effects of climate change, which the applicants attributed to the respondent states, and which they claimed impact their lives, wellbeing, mental health, and the peaceful enjoyment of their homes.

The ECtHR found that there were no grounds in the convention for the extension of extra-territorial jurisdiction in the manner requested.

Since the applicants had not pursued any legal avenue in Portugal, their complaint against Portugal was inadmissible for non-exhaustion of domestic remedies.

Binding precedent

However, the Swiss decision could set a binding precedent for climate litigation argued on the basis of human-rights infringements.

The Swiss verdict, which cannot be appealed, could compel the Swiss Government to take greater action on reducing emissions, including revising its 2030 emissions reductions targets to get in line with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees celsius.

Director at Galway's Global Legal Action Network Gearóid Ó Cuinn helped the Portuguese youth bring their action in a bid to "supercharge" domestic litigation.

The inadmissible claim was brought against more than 30 European states by the Portuguese litigants, aged between 11 and 24.

The judgment rejected the argument that the claimants could not take action at home.

Dublin-based Community Law & Mediation (CLM) described the Swiss ruling as “an historic victory for climate justice”.

“All European States, including Ireland, have the same obligations as Switzerland under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to protect citizens’ right to private and family life in the context of the climate crisis.

"The historic outcome of this landmark case demonstrates the power of people holding governments accountable for their lack of climate action, and will have broader implications for climate litigation globally,” CLM said.

It stated that the cases were part of a global wave of climate litigation as communities took action to secure their human rights and “hold governments and fossil fuel companies accountable”.

CLM is representing Friends of the Irish Environment in a challenge to this country's Climate Action Plan 2023, arguing that it does not set out with sufficient specificity how greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced in line with Ireland’s legally binding carbon budget.

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