EU Court Sets Precedent, Holding Governments Responsible for Climate Inaction: ‘This is a Turning Point’

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) just made a ruling to hold Switzerland responsible for the diminishing quality of citizens’ lives due to the effects of climate change, potentially setting a precedent that holds countries responsible for their inaction against climate change.

Landmark Cases

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France, just addressed a landmark climate litigation case against Switzerland, France, and 32 other European countries.

While the case being set up against 34 European countries already distinguishes itself from the majority of court cases, the people who brought this case forward are equally unique.

Over 2,000 Swiss women from Senior Women for Climate Protection, six Portuguese students, and a French mayor worked together to create the case.

Infringing Rights

Working towards a common goal, these diverse parties argue that their governments’ inadequate action on climate change infringes on human rights.

Primarily in their 70s, the Swiss women argued that climate change-induced heatwaves significantly affected their health and quality of life while posing a heightened mortality risk.

The Swiss women’s case has now led to a historic judgment against Switzerland for violating human rights due to inadequate climate action.

Escalating Weather

The case made by the Portuguese students argued that the escalating severity and frequency of extreme weather events directly impacted their lives and well-being.

When making their case, the Portuguese students advocated for stringent emission reduction targets to uphold their fundamental rights and maintain their quality of life.

The Paris Climate Agreement 

The legal argument at the heart of these cases asserts that current governmental efforts to combat climate change are far from sufficient and that the ECHR must mandate national governments to align their policies with the Paris Climate Agreement.

Established in December 2015, the Paris Climate Agreement is an international treaty on climate change negotiated by 196 separate parties to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

In the ruling against Switzerland, the court determined that the country failed to meet climate targets and has “critical gaps” in its climate legislation.

Setting a Precedent

This ruling is the first ECHR ruling on climate litigation and sets a precedent that member states must protect their citizens from the adverse effects of climate change.

While the court ruled in favor of the Swiss women, the French Mayor and Portuguese students were unable to achieve the same results.

The ECHR court determined that the cases brought by the mayor and students were “inadmissable” due to procedural issues and the specific legal standings of the claimants.


Student Reactions

One of the Portuguese students, Sofia Oliveira, expressed her disappointment in the court’s decision but remains optimistic about the future.

Oliveira said, “I really hoped that we would win against all the countries, so obviously I’m disappointed that this didn’t happen.”

However, Oliveira went on to say, “The most important thing is that the Court has said in the Swiss women’s case that governments must cut their emissions more to protect human rights. So, their win is a win for us, too, and a win for everyone!”

A Watershed Moment

In response to the success of the Swiss women’s case, legal experts and activists have celebrated the decision as a watershed moment for climate justice.

When commenting on the court’s final ruling, Corina Heri, an expert in climate change litigation, highlighted how this new precedent could change the course of future cases fighting climate change.

Heri said, “This is a turning point. It confirms for the first time that countries have an obligation to protect people from the effects of climate change and will open the door to more legal challenges.” 

The post EU Court Sets Precedent, Holding Governments Responsible for Climate Inaction: ‘This is a Turning Point’ first appeared on Swift Feed.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Nicole Glass Photography.

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