Thu, 08 Jun 2023

The European Court of Human Rights on Wednesday began hearing cases against the governments of France and Switzerland over their alleged failings to protect the environment.

Filed by a French former mayor and an association of Swiss senior citizens, the action marks the first time in the history of the Strasbourg-based ECHR that governments have gone on trial over climate policy.

The court must determine whether inadequate climate change action could constitute an infringement of the European Convention on Human Rights - a decision that stands to upset climate policies throughout Europe.

Making history

The first case was brought by a collective of Swiss women aged over 75 who say that global warming has damaged their health, especially during the heatwaves that are becoming more severe and more frequent across Europe.

By failing to take the measures necessary to cut carbon emissions in line with international targets, the so-called "Club of Climate Seniors" alleges Switzerland has failed to meet its obligations to protect their right to life.

"This is a historic event," 64-year-old club member Anne Mahrer told AFP, adding that some 50 members were in Strasbourg for the hearing.

From Dunkirk to Strasbourg

Meanwhile the case against France was brought by Damien Careme, a former mayor of Grande-Synthe, a suburb of Dunkirk in the north, who also argues that the government failed to meet its obligation to protect life by taking insufficient steps to prevent climate change.

When he was mayor, Careme brought his case to the French judiciary on behalf of his town but also on his own behalf, saying climate change was raising the risk of his home being flooded.

France's highest administrative court found in favour of the town against the central government in 2021, but threw out the individual case brought by Careme, which he then took to the ECHR.

France headed for water curbs as dry winter intensifies drought French mayor goes to court over government's 'climate inaction'

"The stakes are extremely high," said Corinne Lepage, a former French ecology minister and one of Careme's lawyers in the case.

"If the European court recognises that climate failings violate the rights of individuals to life and a normal family life, then that becomes precedent in all of the council's member states and potentially in the whole world."

Wednesday's hearings are the start of proceedings that are likely to take several months.

(with wires)

Originally published on RFI

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