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Sat. May 25th, 2024

Europe’s top rights court on Tuesday reprimanded Switzerland for insufficient action on climate change, potentially setting a precedent for more ambitious climate policies among governments.

The European Court of Human Rights, a body within the 46-member Council of Europe, dismissed two other climate cases against European states on procedural grounds. The rulings, treated as a priority by the court’s 17 judges, were highly anticipated as a potential legal turning point.

The court found that Switzerland had violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which safeguards the “right to respect for private and family life.” The case was brought forth by the Swiss association of Elders for Climate Protection, representing 2,500 women with an average age of 73, citing the Swiss authorities’ failures in climate protection and their potential health impacts. The court highlighted deficiencies in Swiss regulations, including a lack of quantified limits on national greenhouse gas emissions.

As part of the ruling, Switzerland was instructed to pay the association €80,000 (approximately $87,000) within three months. Cordelia Bahr, the association’s lawyer, hailed the decision as a significant legal precedent asserting that climate protection is a human right. Climate activist Greta Thunberg echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the growing trend of citizens holding their governments accountable through litigation.

Legal experts described the ruling as “historic” and anticipated its influence on climate action and litigation across Europe and beyond. The decision underscores the interconnection between the climate crisis and human rights obligations of states. Gerry Liston of the Global Legal Action Network remarked that a victory in any of the cases could mark the most significant legal development on climate change in Europe since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Following the ruling, the Swiss government pledged to review measures to address the court’s concerns, although the process may take time. However, the decision faced criticism from the hard-right Swiss People’s Party, which denounced it as interference in domestic policy and called for Switzerland to withdraw from the Council of Europe. Meanwhile, Elders for Climate Protection expressed vigilance in ensuring government compliance.

The court’s rulings coincided with Europe’s climate monitor reporting March 2024 as the hottest on record. While one case was dismissed due to procedural reasons, and another was rejected as the plaintiff was not considered a victim, the decisions collectively underscore the imperative for governments to take decisive action on climate change. Despite the absence of explicit environmental provisions in the European Convention on Human Rights, the court’s jurisprudence highlights states’ obligations to maintain a healthy environment under Article 8.

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