The state's failure to implement sufficient measures to combat climate change violated ECHR

The ECHR has delivered Grand Chamber rulings in three climate change cases. In one of them the Court found that the Convention encompasses a right to effective protection by the State authorities from the serious adverse effects of climate change on lives, health, well-being and quality of life.

In Grand Chamber's judgment in the case of Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland (application no. 53600/20) the European Court of Human Rights held, by a majority of sixteen votes to one, that there had been a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights; and, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1 (access to court). 

The case concerned a complaint by four women and a Swiss association, Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz, whose members are all older women concerned about the consequences of global warming on their living conditions and health. They consider that the Swiss authorities are not taking sufficient action, despite their duties under the Convention, to mitigate the effects of climate change. 

The Court found that Article 8 of the Convention encompasses a right to effective protection by the State authorities from the serious adverse effects of climate change on lives, health, well-being and quality of life. However, it held that the four individual applicants did not fulfil the victim-status criteria under Article 34 of the Convention and declared their complaints inadmissible. 

The applicant association, in contrast, had the right (locus standi) to bring a complaint regarding the threats arising from climate change in the respondent State on behalf of those individuals who could arguably claim to be subject to specific threats or adverse effects of climate change on their life, health, well-being and quality of life as protected under the Convention. 

The Court found that the Swiss Confederation had failed to comply with its duties (“positive obligations”) under the Convention concerning climate change. There had been critical gaps in the process of putting in place the relevant domestic regulatory framework, including a failure by the Swiss authorities to quantify, through a carbon budget or otherwise, national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions limitations. Switzerland had also failed to meet its past GHG emission reduction targets. 

While recognising that national authorities enjoy wide discretion in relation to implementation of legislation and measures, the Court held, on the basis of the material before it, that the Swiss authorities had not acted in time and in an appropriate way to devise, develop and implement relevant legislation and measures in this case. In addition, the Court found that Article 6 § 1 of the Convention applied to the applicant association’s complaint concerning effective implementation of the mitigation measures under existing domestic law. 

The Court held that the Swiss courts had not provided convincing reasons as to why they had considered it unnecessary to examine the merits of the applicant association’s complaints. They had failed to take into consideration the compelling scientific evidence concerning climate change and had not taken the complaints seriously. (source/photo:

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George Kazoleas, Lawyer

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