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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) recently heard the first climate complaint. It was a dispute initiated by a group of Swiss senior women (Climate Seniors), are suing their country’s government for not doing enough to prevent global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times.
The women’s group supported by the Swiss branch of Greenpeace says that climate change directly threatens their health during heat waves, they cannot function normally and live in “climate lockdown”.
According to Eva Palunová, an environmental legal expert from the Czech Republic’s Institute of State and Law Academy of Sciences, this historic moment started a process that will greatly affect the future of climate litigation in many countries, including the Czech Republic.
“It has long been said that it is desirable for the ECtHR to comment on the connection between climate and human rights. This issue has already been resolved by the Court of Justice of the European Union, where the plaintiffs did not succeed, and the ECtHR was presented as another option. About 10 complaints from various countries have already accumulated there. The Court has chosen 3 of them. “The trial took place in the first two,” Palunova added, adding that the time frame is expected, adding that results can be expected sometime next year.
Following a complaint by Swiss senior women, the court heard a French case on the same day, and plans to hear a Portuguese complaint targeting 33 countries, including the Czech Republic, in the future.
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According to Balunova, if the court finds that human rights are actually being violated in relation to states’ climate policy, states are obligated to address the issue. Judgments of the ECtHR are legally binding.
Swiss women complain that the government denies them the right to life
Representatives of a group of Swiss women over the age of 64 presented their evidence in court, saying that older people suffer more from extreme heat and are at a higher risk of death than the general population, and that the problem is even greater for women. In court according to the Guardian rang out The claim that the effects of climate change pose a serious threat not only to the health of a group of women, but to their very existence.
The complaint alleges a violation of Articles Two and Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights. According to the complaint, the Swiss government is “grossly inadequate” in implementing measures to mitigate the country’s contribution to a warming climate.
While Swiss government officials acknowledge that rising temperatures threaten public health, they dismiss Climasenior’s group as scapegoats, saying the link between the government’s actions and the women’s suffering is too “weak and remote.”
Switzerland continues to insist that its actions must adequately demonstrate its willingness to act to avoid 1.5°C warming. In addition, it has been argued that when this warming occurs, older women are more likely to be still alive at their advanced age.
The case reached the European Court of Justice after nearly six years of trials throughout the Swiss court system.
The French are worried about the flooding of the city
Similarly, the second “climate case” in history, the ECtHR heard same day It is led by French MEP and former mayor Damien Garem, who complains that the coastal area near Calais is threatened by rising sea levels and could be submerged by 2030.
According to him, climate change threatens his life and health. Like Switzerland’s senior women, the 62-year-old is demanding tougher measures from the French government to cut emissions.
Carême saw partial success in a series of national trials in 2021 when a court in France ordered the government to take “all necessary measures to achieve climate targets”. However, according to the former mayor, this did not happen, which is why he is seeking a remedy from the ECtHR.
The young Portuguese have sued in 33 countries, including the Czech Republic
Representatives of the younger generation, including many children, are behind the Portuguese complaint. 33 states, including the Czech Republic, must change their current approach to climate action so that they do not threaten the future and the lives of young people.
The public hearing of the case has not yet come, but according to Balunova, it can be said that proceedings are already underway. The ECtHR decided to deal with the case despite the fact that it had not yet passed through all national courts. The European Court has already sought, inter alia, the opinion of respondent states and the reactions of complainants.
If the court rules in favor of the plaintiff in these cases, it will have far-reaching consequences.
As for direct ones, according to Balunova, it is not unreasonable to expect states to obey the court’s order, especially if it is specifically formulated. An indirect effect could be a precedent for other climate cases being conducted in Strasbourg. Not only there.
“In fact, even the Supreme Administrative Court in the case of the Czech climate case indicated that it is aware that the complaints are already in the ECtHR, but a decision is still awaited. There is no doubt that the decision of the ECtHR will be important for Czech and other national court processes in the case of climate cases,” said Balunova.
Another consequence may be the generally high number of cases.
Of course, the court does not have to agree with the plaintiffs and may dismiss their complaint.