Climate change before the European Court of Human Rights

Resistance by young people and senior citizens

Europe – Paris Agreement – ECtHR

Governments worldwide are failing to do what is necessary to counteract climate change. Through their inaction, they violate human rights, as well as obstruct the chances of ensuring a future that is worth living for present and future generations on earth. More and more people around the globe – especially those most at risk, including the young and the elderly – are taking these governments to court. 

For the first time, the European Court of Human Rights is faced with the responsibility of holding European states accountable for violating human rights by not taking sufficient measures to combat climate change.  

Case

In May and September 2021, ECCHR, together with several human rights organizations from the network ESCR-Net, submitted two joint third-party interventions to the ECtHR in both Duarte Agostinho and others v. Portugal and others and in Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland, respectively. The amicus curiae briefs reaffirm states’ human rights obligations to adopt and enforce effective measures that address climate change by reducing carbon emissions both within and beyond their borders. Additionally, they call upon the human rights duties of states to effectively regulate and hold business enterprises accountable for their outsized role in environmental degradation and the accelerating climate crisis.

Both legal interventions emphasize the profound impact of climate change on the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights and highlight the need for the court to implement an intersectional analysis to address the multifaceted and intergenerational challenges posed by the climate crisis.  

Context

Six Portuguese youths filed a complaint to the ECtHR in September 2020, alleging that their rights to life, privacy, and protection from discrimination have been violated by the 33 respondent states due to their collective failure to adopt emissions reductions consistent with the Paris Agreement 1.5°C target. They are requesting that the court order the respondent countries to take more ambitious and urgent action, which is vital to halting the climate crisis and to protecting the claimants’ human rights. The court granted the case priority status due to the importance and urgency of the issues raised.  

As older women are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, a coalition of senior women have also taken the Swiss government to the ECtHR for its insufficient climate targets and measures to limit global warming to safe levels. The complaint, filed in December 2020, argues that by pursuing inadequate climate goals, Switzerland is violating the claimant’s right to life as guaranteed by the Swiss constitution and by the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Both cases are currently pending in the ECtHR.

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Documents (2)

Glossary (2)

Definition

Amicus curiae brief

An amicus curiae brief is a submission to a court setting out a legal position.

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