Protection from global warming is a human right

The complex decision (no less than 260 pages) of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on the case Verein Klimaseniorinnen Schweiz and others v. SWITZERLAND of April 9, 2024, is a milestone in the process of integrating environmental protection, and specifically climate warming protection measures, into human rights.

With regard to the analysis of this decision, the procedural issues concerning the admissibility of the collective action brought by the association as well as the configurability of a right of action in court by the individual plaintiffs will be omitted; likewise, the aspects concerning the culpability of the Swiss authorities in this regard and the ensuing controversy, especially within the federal government, will not be addressed. 

Instead, the subject of this installment is the recognition of the framing of environmental protection and measures to protect against global warming among the human rights enshrined in the ECHR.


According to the Court, Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – which protect the right to life, as well as private and family life – includes the right of individuals to effective protection by state authorities from the serious adverse effects of climate change on their lives, health, well-being, and quality of life. The relevant part of Article 2 provides as follows: “1. The right to life of every individual shall be protected by law …”.  The relevant part of Article 8 states, “1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home ...”

Article 8 of the Convention imposes positive obligations on the contracting state and among them is to take sufficient measures to combat climate change. 

Intergenerational burden sharing is particularly relevant here.

While the Court has little room for appreciation regarding the state’s commitment to combating climate change, its adverse effects, and the setting of goals in this regard, it has wide room for appreciation regarding the choice of means to achieve these goals. The main duty of the contracting state is to adopt and effectively implement in practice regulations and measures capable of mitigating the current and potentially irreversible effects of climate change. Mitigation measures must be complemented by adaptation measures designed to alleviate the most severe or imminent consequences of climate change.


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