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Key European human rights cases and their potential impact on climate litigation

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In Strasbourg, France, the European Court of Human Rights is poised to deliver rulings on three pivotal climate cases this week. These cases of climate litigation, with their groundbreaking implications, are set to establish a precedent for future climate-related litigation, reshaping the discourse on human rights in the context of climate change. Here’s a breakdown of what’s at stake:

The Lawsuits:

  • Six Portuguese youths are taking legal action against 32 European countries, alleging a failure to address climate change adequately, endangering their right to life.
  • Elderly Swiss women are challenging their government’s insufficient efforts to combat global warming, citing increased risks of heatwave-related deaths.
  • Damien Carême, a former mayor in France, is contesting the government’s reluctance to implement more ambitious climate policies.

Rights Possibly Violated:

  • The cases address whether weak climate policies infringe upon human rights enshrined in the European Convention, including the right to life.
  • Plaintiffs argue that climate change poses existential threats, particularly to vulnerable groups such as youth and the elderly.

“The three cases are quite distinct in terms of who’s bringing the case, which government or governments is being sued, and what the ask is in the case,” said Lucy Maxwell, co-director of the Climate Litigation Network.

Potential Rulings:

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  • The court’s decisions, unappealable once issued, may vary significantly for each case, impacting involved governments and setting precedents for future litigation.
  • Verdicts could range from declarations of human rights violations to calls for revised emissions targets, exerting pressure on governments to prioritise climate action.

Achieving Change:

  • A ruling against governments could compel swift action to enhance climate policies, emphasising the legal obligation to protect human rights in the face of climate crises.
  • Non-compliance may lead to further litigation at the national level, potentially resulting in financial penalties and raising concerns about government accountability.

Setting Legal Precedent:

  • These landmark rulings, the first of their kind in a regional human rights court, will set a significant legal precedent with far-reaching implications.
  • The outcomes will serve as a blueprint for both international and national courts, influencing future climate-related litigation worldwide.

Global Impact:

  • The decisions will reverberate beyond Europe, potentially inspiring similar legal actions in countries grappling with climate-related human rights violations.
  • Courts worldwide will scrutinise these rulings, shaping the trajectory of climate litigation and amplifying the call for robust climate action on a global scale.

In sum, the forthcoming rulings hold immense potential to catalyse transformative change in climate policy and legal frameworks, underscoring the urgency of addressing climate change as a human rights imperative.

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