The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) Wednesday heard oral arguments in two cases in which the applicants are accusing their respective governments, France and Switzerland, of failing to take steps to prevent climate change. Both applicants argue that this failure entails a breach of their right to life and right to respect for family life under the European Convention of Human Rights.
The members of Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz, a Swiss association, are the applicants in the first case. The members are a group of older women, with 33 percent being over the age of 75. They are concerned about the consequences of global warming on their living conditions and health. The particular vulnerability they allege is the exacerbation of health problems during global warming-induced heatwaves. The members allege that the government of Switzerland has failed to introduce suitable legislation to meet international targets for tackling climate change. Furthermore, they argue that they have not had access to a court and that there is no effective domestic remedy.
Mr. Damien Carême, a former French mayor, is taking the second case. Carême is challenging the French court’s assertion that he is not directly affected by the country’s failure to take sufficient action on climate change. He alleges that he is directly affected by this failure due to the increased risk that his home might be affected in the years to come, namely through flooding. He suggests that the failure is already having a negative effect, in particular by not allowing him to plan his life peacefully there.
The Swiss government and the French government have similar standpoints. They contend that because they are not solely responsible for climate change, they cannot be held accountable for its effects.
The judgements of the ECHR could set pivotal precedence in respect of future climate change actions. The court is expected to make its ruling on both matters in 2024.