Human Rights Court: government that does nothing against climate damage is punishable

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that governments that do too little to combat climate change violate the EU right to respect for private and family life. The Highest European Court thus ruled in favor of a group of Swiss elderly people, but rejected similar charges from Portuguese young people and a French mayor on legal-technical grounds.

The ruling on climate damage caused by government negligence is seen as a logical follow-up to previous rulings in environmental cases, and is now considered a “historic” foundation regarding the climate crisis, observers say.

This case was brought by an association of Swiss seniors concerned about the impact of global warming on their health, and who claim that the Swiss government is not taking enough action. They argued that their government's policies are "clearly inadequate" to keep global warming below the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit of the Paris Agreement. 

The Court in Luxembourg ruled that the Swiss Confederation had failed to fulfill its obligations under the Convention on Climate Change. The ruling is very similar to two previous rulings by Dutch judges. The Dutch State and oil company Shell were condemned after complaints from environmental organizations because they had not done enough to combat greenhouse gas emissions.

A similar complaint from Portuguese youth was rejected by the EU Court. Their case was not only against Portugal, but against all EU member states, as well as Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, Great Britain and Russia. It was this geographical distribution that made their complaint inadmissible. The ECtHR ruled that there are no grounds in the Treaty for the “extraterritorial jurisdiction” sought by the applicants.

A third case was brought by the former mayor of the French city of Grande-Synthe, Damien Careme. It complains about the French government's 'shortcomings', which are putting its city at risk from rising sea levels. But the judges have rejected his 'victim status' because he no longer lives in France - having moved to Brussels as a member of the European Parliament.

note: the heading above this article has been adjusted to clarify that this is not a ruling from a EU Court in Luxembourg, but from the European Court of Human Rights