Is Climate Inaction a Human Rights Violation?

Is Climate Inaction a Human Rights Violation?

Is Climate Inaction a Human Rights Violation?

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favor of a group of women who claimed the Swiss government failed to protect their health amidst the heat waves due to worsening climate changes. Known as “Swiss Grandmothers”, with a minimum age of 64, these women sailed up the Rhine in 2020 to present their case to the Strasbourg-based court after their legal efforts in Switzerland were dismissed.

The ECHR found out that the Swiss legal system did not competently consider the compelling scientific evidence regarding climate change and failed to take the women’s case seriously. The ruling could have far reaching consequences for dozens of European countries, potentially marking a categorical moment for human rights-based climate inaction lawsuits. According to experts, this decision will definitely pressure countries lagging on their climate targets.

 The ECHR stated that Switzerland has not obeyed with its duties under the European Convention on Human Rights related to climate change, pointing out crucial gaps in domestic regulations and a flop to achieve greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. The court condemned the Swiss authorities for not acting in a timely and appropriate manner.

 The decision comes at a time when the repercussions of the climate crisis are becoming increasingly severe. Last year the Global Temperatures shattered all the previous records,and scientists hint that the odds of setting another heat record this year are one in three. The rising frequency and graveness of extreme weather events highlight the crying need for effective climate action.

However, not all human rights-based climate litigation has succeeded. The ECHR dismissed two other related cases on procedural grounds, on the same day as the ruling in favor of the Swiss grandmothers. One case was brought by a group of youngsters from Portugal, who claimed that wildfires intensified by climate change are a threat to health and caused severe anxiety. The court ruled their case untenable because they had not first pursued it in their native Portugal.

The UN Human Rights Office clearly stated that climate change endangers the enjoyment of fundamental rights such as health, food and life. Yet, chasing legal action to compel respect for these rights can be a complex and lengthy process. Despite all this, there is an increasing trend in human rights related climate claims. An attorney involved in climate litigation, Clementine Baldon predicted that the number of such claims would continue to rise, especially if courts like ECHR rule in favor of petitioners.

A data by The Global Climate Change Litigation has recorded 146 human rights based cases against governments outside the U.S. These cases are often related to environmental health, rights of indigenous groups and climate migration. For illustrations, Baldon’s clients filed a complaint with ECHR over a treaty that requires governments to compensate energy companies and investors if public policies, including those combating climate change, affect their profits.

This victory for the Swiss grandmothers at the ECHR highlights the potential for human rights-based climate litigation to initiate change. One of the petitioners expressed disbelief in their success, saying, “We keep asking our lawyers, ‘Is that right?’ And they tell us: ‘It’s the most you could have had. The biggest victory possible.”

The decision sets a judicial precedent that could influence and affect future climate lawsuits and hold the government responsible for their climate inaction. As climate change continues to endanger fundamental human rights, the role of legal systems in addressing these challenges becomes increasingly critical.

 For more analysis and context on human rights, climate change and energy policy, readers are empowered to explore additional resources from the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform.

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