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Is the Climate Crisis a Human Rights Crisis?

Amidst the distress of climate activists as environmental concerns are seemingly deprioritized on the EU policy agenda, with Hungary set to become the next state to hold the rotating EU presidency, its plans will see an even greater policy neglect for environmental concerns.

However an exciting development out of Strasbourg has completely changed the trajectory of environmental activism and climate litigation. This case is the first successfully argued climate-related matter that has been brought to an international court of law. 

On the 14th of February, the European Court of Human Rights made a positive ruling on a case brought by the Senior Women for Climate protection (KilmaSeniorinnen), a group of more than 2000 Swiss women aged 64+ who have come together to reaffirm their rights to privacy and family life. They assert that the heatwaves, a direct result of Swiss failure to cut national Greenhouse gas emissions, put them not just through discomfort but at risk disproportionately. 

They cited this risk as a direct violation of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human rights, a charter the European Court of Human Rights (and all 46 of its European member states) has committed to. Switzerland, as a result of ineffective climate measures and a lack of dedication to the goals set out in the 2015 Paris agreement, was charged with violating its own citizens’ human rights. 

Though two other cases, which were considered alongside the Swiss womens’, were dismissed on the same day due to legal technicalities, there is still hope that the February 14th ruling will influence future decisions in other international courts and national courts.

The ICJ currently has a few cases with very similar details making their way through its system, as does the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In national courts, cases against Belgium, Poland, and Germany may be bolstered by this decision. The argument no longer stands that the efforts of one country will be insignificant in the larger right for climate change. Clearly climate policies, and adherence to climate promises, are international issues. 

Beyond setting a precedent for future cases and the revisiting of past cases, the ruling also sets out clear steps for European countries to take to meet their promises of carbon neutrality by 2050. This goal is a part of the effort to stay within 1.5°C of preindustrial times, as set out in the Paris Climate Agreement. This ruling was able to make such assertions because of the amount of countries that are bound to the European Convention of Human rights. As such, this decision should apply to all 46 member states, though it may not affect equal changes in all nations. 

Evidently, this decision shows much promise. It is significant that such global outcomes could be affected by a grassroots movement. Yet it is telling that this ruling took over 9 years. The personal repercussions of the negligence of countries concerning climate change are often the most pressing and evident. Though international courts have, in the past, been unwilling to consider such cases, these appeals now seem to be an effective means to enforce countries’ climate goals.

Image by Nextvoyage via Pexels


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