Climate responsibility of States: the ECHR condemns Switzerland, a first

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has never ruled on the responsibility of States in terms of action against climate change

Climate responsibility of States: the ECHR condemns Switzerland, a first

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has never ruled on the responsibility of States in terms of action against climate change. On Tuesday April 9, the ECHR issued a judgment condemning Switzerland for violating the European Convention on Human Rights, after a petition brought by 2,500 women who denounced “failures by the Swiss authorities to mitigate the effects of climate change.” which, according to them, have negative consequences on their living conditions and their health.

The ECHR had to say whether the targeted States had violated the convention, in particular the “right to life” (article 2) and the “right to respect for private and family life” (article 8), by not fighting sufficiently against global warming, while a new global heat peak was recorded in March.

By a majority of sixteen votes to one, the ECHR established, for the Swiss case, that there had been a violation of the right to respect for private and family life of the convention and, unanimously, a violation of the Article 6 (“right to a fair trial”). The ECHR thus affirms that Article 8 enshrines the right to effective protection, by State authorities, against the serious harmful effects of climate change on life, health, well-being and quality of life.

The court therefore considered that the association was authorized to take legal action on behalf of people who could claim that their living conditions and health were threatened by climate change. But for the four individual applicants, the ECHR ruled that they did not meet the criteria relating to the status of victims and therefore declared their applications inadmissible.

Two other requests, including that targeting France, rejected

The request filed by Damien Carême, former mayor of Grande-Synthe and current MEP, was rejected. He attacked the “deficiencies” of the French state, believing in particular that they pose a risk of submersion to the city, on the coast of the North Sea. Mr Carême was not recognized as a victim, said ECHR President Siofra O’Leary.

In 2019, he had already, in his own name and as mayor, seized the Council of State for climate inaction. The highest administrative court ruled in favor of the municipality, but rejected its individual request, leading it to refer the matter to the ECHR. “Seeing my city submerged in thirty years is unbearable,” justified Mr. Carême, explaining that he wanted to “put an end to lethargy” and “the State’s refusal to act.”

Same outcome for the third case supported by a collective of six Portuguese aged 12 to 24, mobilized after the terrible fires which ravaged their country in 2017. Their request was directed against their country and against the other states of the European Union , as well as Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Russia – thirty-two countries in total. As the applicants have not exhausted the legal remedies available in Portugal, their requests do not meet the conditions of admissibility, explained Ms. O'Leary, delivering this decision in Strasbourg.