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Remarkable Ruling from the European Court of Human Rights on Climate Change

In its landmark ruling on 9 April 2024, the ECtHR declared climate change a dire threat to human rights. Swiss women's complaint against governmental inaction violating ECHR underscored the imperative for access to justice. The ECtHR's directive urges states to honor international obligations, safeguarding against irreversible harm.


Remarkable Ruling from the European Court of Human Rights on Climate Change

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR” or “Court”) issued a judgment on 9 April 2024, stating that climate change imperils human rights and perhaps establishing a precedent for the European Union and beyond. You may find the full text of the judgment here.

The Case

The complaint is brought by a Swiss association Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz, representing elderly Swiss ladies, and four other individual women against the Swiss Government.

The applicants complain about the Swiss Government’s insufficient actions to mitigate climate change, especially the effects of global warming, which negatively affects their lives, living conditions, and health. They base their complaints on Articles 2 (right to life) and 8 (the right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”). According to their claims, the State violated its international obligations by failing to enact the necessary laws and implement adequate policies to meet the targets set forth for addressing climate change. They further claim that they were denied access to a court for the purposes of Article 6 § 1 (access to court) of the ECHR.

ECtHR’s Opinion

The Court stated that one of the most important challenges of our day is climate change. Though greenhouse gas accumulation in the Earth’s atmosphere was the main driver of climate change, there were numerous and complex side impacts on the ecosystem as well as negative repercussions on the standard of life for different human societies and individuals.

Accordingly, the Court found that the applicant association met all requirements and had the legal standing to represent its members in court. It further determined that Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) is applicable to their complaint. Based on this determination, the Court decided not to pursue examination under Article 2. In addition, the Court considered the nature and scope of the individual applicants’ complaints in terms of the impacts and harm of the climate change on their life, health and well-being. As a result, as per Article 34 (locus standi) of the ECHR, none of the four individual applicants met the requirements for victim status.


Given the facts in the case, the Court determined that the Swiss authorities’ implementation of the applicable domestic regulatory framework had several crucial flaws, including their inability to measure, through governmental limits on greenhouse gas emissions, or a carbon budget. Furthermore, the Swiss Government has previously fallen short of its earlier targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as acknowledged by the appropriate authorities. The authorities were not prompt, suitable, or consistent in their actions when it came to the creation, development, and application of the applicable legal and administrative framework. As a result, the Swiss Government had overreached its margin of appreciation and had neglected to uphold its positive obligations under Article 8 of the ECHR.

ECtHR also concluded that Article 6 § 1 of ECHR applied to the applicant association’s complaint. Accordingly, it is determined that the Swiss domestic courts failed to effectively consider scientific evidence related to climate change and did not provide a remedy to the association. In the absence of any remaining legal avenues, the applicant associations’ right to access to courts was violated.

To Sum Up

With its judgement, ECtHR highlighted that access to justice is crucial for climate change cases and thus, the domestic courts play a significant role.

Furthermore, it is a remarkable ruling of the ECtHR for future claims and for countries which will need to exercise their positive obligations as per Article 8, as it is stated in the judgment as “(…) in line with the international commitments undertaken by the member States, most notably under the UNFCCC the Paris Agreement, and in the light of the compelling scientific advice provided, in particular, by the IPCC, States need to put in place the necessary regulations and measures aimed at preventing an increase in GHG concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere and a rise in global average temperature beyond levels capable of producing serious and irreversible adverse effects on human rights under Article 8”