The use of human rights in climate change litigation in Europe

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Climate change litigation is booming around the world. Figures show that more and more climate cases are being brought before national and international courts. Europe is not immune to this phenomenon. Almost all European countries have climate cases that aim to increase climate ambition or ensure that existing climate obligations are properly implemented. 

Many different legal tools can be used to bring a climate case forward – including human rights. Focusing on these rights specifically is relevant for several reasons:

  1. The link between climate change impacts and human rights violations is becoming increasingly clearer, as climate impacts themselves get increasingly tangible. At the international level, human rights have become an important issue during negotiations on climate change. The Preamble of the Paris Agreement and, more recently, the Glasgow Climate Pact recognise the relationship between human rights and climate change.
  2. Human rights are a very useful tool to use in the climate governance framework. All European states have a human rights protection system. It can be used to fill the accountability gap when governments or corporate actors fail to deliver on their emission reduction promises, if there is a lack of specific accountability rules.
  3. There is a real trend towards using human rights arguments and remedies in the courts to advance climate action. Several observers have witnessed a ‘rights turn’ in climate change litigation in recent years. The year 2023 will continue this movement, and strengthen it even further. For the first time, the European Court of Human Rights will consider several climate-related cases. This could have important implications, as judgments of this Court are binding on 46 European states.

The objective of this report is therefore to provide information on human rights based climate change litigation in Europe for a broad, non-specialist audience ahead of important milestones in 2023. It also aims to illustrate the many different ways in which human rights can be used in courts to advance NGO climate action.

Romain Didi (CAN Europe); with a contribution from Caroline Schroeder (Germanwatch)
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