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Tim Mohin: Climate Rights are Human Rights

Tim Mohin: Climate Rights are Human Rights

Tim Mohin - Climate Rights are Human Rights
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In a historic ruling, the European Court of Human Rights decided that Switzerland’s failure to act on climate violates human rights.  This was the first time an international court determined that governments were legally obligated to meet their climate targets under human rights law and set a precedent for other cases. 

The nine-year court battle called for more protection for women’s health as it relates to climate based on research showing that older women are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illnessesThe judges ruled that the Swiss government had failed to protect its citizens’ rights and ordered Switzerland to introduce measures to address those failures and to pay plaintiffs’ costs and expenses.

Joie Chowdhury, an attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law, said, “The first ruling by an international human rights court on the inadequacy of states’ climate action leaves no doubt… the climate crisis is a human rights crisis.” Greta Thurnberg, who joined the cheering crowds as the elderly Swiss women descended the court’s steps after the verdict, said: “This is just the beginning.” 

Swiss newspapers clapped back, calling the ruling “absurd” and a threat to democracy. Describing the ruling as “activist jurisprudence” that could pave the way for “all kinds of claims,” Influential newspapers in Switzerland said the elderly plaintiffs were ultimately pawns of environmental lobbies that used the court to circumvent democratic debate.

The international court’s ruling will have implications beyond Switzerland. Tom Cummins, of law firm Ashurst, said, “Corporate climate litigation often relies on human rights arguments . . . The decision in the case against Switzerland will likely encourage claims of this nature.”

While this case won, two similar cases we have been following, one from a former French mayor and another brought by six Portuguese youths, lost. However, one of the Portuguese plaintiffs, Sofia Oliveira, said, “Their win (the Swiss women) is a win for us, too, and a win for everyone!

There are currently more than 2,500 climate litigation cases globally, and there is no sign of that slowing down. With more than 55% having a climate-positive ruling, the judicial system is having a huge impact on climate action. The Columbia Climate School Sabin Center for Climate Change Law maintains a comprehensive tracker of climate litigation.  

This Smart Read article is contributed by Tim Mohin, Global Sustainability Leader, BCG. Every week ESG News delivers smart commentary from ESG practitioners and experts to unpack issues of the week. Submit your ESG Smart Read to [email protected]

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