Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Climate change violates human rights

That's the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights today:

Weak government climate policies violate fundamental human rights, the European court of human rights has ruled.

In a landmark decision on one of three major climate cases, the first such rulings by an international court, the ECHR raised judicial pressure on governments to stop filling the atmosphere with gases that make extreme weather more violent.

The court’s top bench ruled that Switzerland had violated the rights of a group of older Swiss women to family life, but threw out a French mayor’s case against France and that of a group of young Portuguese people against 32 European countries.


The court, which calls itself “the conscience of Europe”, found that Switzerland had failed to comply with its duties to stop climate change. It also set out a path for organisations to bring further cases on behalf of applicants.

The other cases were thrown out for technical reasons, not on the merits, so that's not actually a problem. What is weird is that this ruling was made under Article 8 - the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence - rather than the Article 2 right to life. Reading the actual judgement, the reason for this seems to be that it was a bit easier, but it also notes that there's a very similar argument under the right to life. But the ruling itself flows from accepted principles of effective protection for human rights:
The Court found that Article 8 of the Convention encompasses a right for individuals to effective protection by the State authorities from the serious adverse effects of climate change on their lives, health, well-being and quality of life.

In this context, a contracting State’s main duty is to adopt, and to apply in practice, regulations and measures capable of mitigating the existing and potentially irreversible, future effects of climate change.

Whether this argument works in Aotearoa (which also recognises the right to life) will depend on whether the courts recognise a duty of effective protection.

As for Europe, the consequences of this ruling should be significant, and should force ECHR parties (including the UK) to revise their climate policies, or face legal action. And hopefully that will see deeper emissions cuts