‘Only The Beginning’: European Court Rules Government Protection From Climate Change Is A Human Right

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) sided with a group of female senior citizens who had sued their government over its perceived failures to sufficiently address climate change on human rights grounds, according to The Wall Street Journal.

A group of more than 2,000 Swiss women over the age of 64 alleged that the Swiss government’s climate change policies were in violation of the right to life and other provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the ECHR ruled in their favor in its first decision pertaining directly to climate change, according to the WSJ. The decision sets a new precedent in most of Europe that could encourage similar cases against national governments and corporations.

“Climate campaigners are likely to seize on the conclusion that states have positive obligations under human rights law in relation to climate change, and use it as the basis for future claims against states which they deem to not be moving quickly enough to address the threat of climate change,” Tom Cummins, a partner at a global law firm called Ashurst, told the WSJ. “Companies and financial institutions will also want to review these cases carefully. Corporate climate litigation often relies on human rights arguments, including in high profile cases like the Dutch litigation brought by Milieudefensie against Shell. The decision in the case against Switzerland will likely encourage claims of this nature.” (RELATED: Germany Went All In On The Green Transition. Now, Its Economy Is Crumbling)

The ECHR’s Tuesday decision will likely encourage similar lawsuits against national governments in Europe, according to Reuters. The ECHR put a lawsuit against the Norwegian government — alleging that it violated human rights by issuing oil and gas exploration licenses — on hold ahead of issuing the landmark ruling in the Swiss women’s case.

Greta Thunberg, a prominent European climate activist, believes that the Swiss women’s lawsuit is the start of a barrage of European climate lawsuits to come. A panel for the United Nations has suggested that children should sue their governments for perceived negligence on climate change.

“This is only the beginning of climate litigation,” Thunberg told Reuters. “The results of this can mean in no way that we lean back. This means that we have to fight even more, since this is only the beginning.”

The plaintiffs were senior women specifically because people 55-years old and above, and women especially, face increased risks of death related to heat, giving them standing  to sue the Swiss government for its purported failures to stem the effects of climate change, according to Axios. The ECHR’s decision in favor of the Swiss women is final, according to the WSJ.

There were two similar climate cases before the ECHR on Tuesday, but the court dismissed each of them. One of those cases saw a group of Portuguese youths sue a group of 32 European countries, while a French mayor sued the French national government in the other.

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