What’s happening: Climate justice is advancing in Europe.

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For the first time in its history, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has examined two cases of alleged climate inaction by France and Switzerland.

In the case of France, Green MEP Damien Carême claims that his village in the North is threatened by flooding due to global warming. He argues that France is violating his right to life by not reducing its greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough. In 2019, Carême brought the same case before the French Council of State, the highest administrative court in France, which recognized the harm to his village and ordered the government to accelerate its efforts. Now, the ECHR is examining Carême’s case on a personal level.

In the Swiss case, a Swiss association of 2,000 retired women argues that their country is violating their right to life by not doing enough to address climate change. Their appeals to Swiss courts have been unsuccessful, so they are now turning to the ECHR.

While the ECHR’s decisions will not be binding, they will be declarative. This means that the decisions cannot force a country to take action, but signatory states have committed to respecting them. The decisions of the ECHR can also influence the legal systems of the countries involved, as we have seen in previous cases.

In 2019, the Dutch Supreme Court ordered the Netherlands to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. In 2021, the Paris Administrative Court convicted France of inaction in the “Affaire du Siècle,” giving the government until December 31, 2022, to accelerate its efforts. Despite claims by the government that they are doing all they can, advocacy groups believe that more needs to be done. They may even seek financial penalties against the state in the first quarter of 2023.

These cases demonstrate a growing trend of using legal channels to hold governments accountable for their actions, or lack thereof, in addressing climate change. As an ESG consultancy focused on environmental and social justice, Justice Verte recognizes the importance of climate justice and the role that legal institutions can play in advancing it. We will continue to monitor these cases and others like them, and support our clients in their efforts to promote a more sustainable and just future.