In the middle of a climate change protest, a hand is holding up a cardboard sign that says "climate justice now." The "i" in "climate" is drawn like a thermometer measuring a high temperature, while the "o" in "now" is drawn like a globe.
12 Jan 2023

ENNHRI intervenes before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in three historic climate cases

ENNHRI has submitted third-party interventions to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in the landmark climate cases of Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and Others, Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and others v. Switzerland, and Carême v. France. These submissions underline States’ responsibility to combat climate change effectively in order to protect the right to life and the right to private and family life under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) Articles 2 and 8.

What the cases are about and their importance

Three Chambers of the European Court of Human Rights have exceptionally decided to relinquish jurisdiction to the Grand Chamber, which comprises 17 judges, including the President of the Court. This can only be done if a case raises serious questions concerning the interpretation of the ECHR that could have a major impact on the protection of the rights enshrined therein.

All cases concern the duty to protect life and private life by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

  • In Duarte Agostinho and others v. Portugal and others, six Portuguese children and young people complain that 32 European States are not doing enough to protect them from the impacts of climate change during their lifetime.
  • In KlimaSeniorinnen v. Switzerland, four older women and an association complain that Switzerland has violated its positive obligation to protect their rights to life and health from the impacts of dangerous heat waves by failing to sufficiently lower greenhouse gas emissions.
  • In Carême v. France, a French mayor complains that a lack of emission reductions has led to more dangerous heat waves and rising sea levels in the coastal town of Grande-Synthe.

Considering the importance of these cases, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in Europe – through their regional network ENNHRI – have decided to intervene before the Grand Chamber. As a third-party intervener, ENNHRI makes independent written submissions to assist the Court with its consideration of both the legal and factual questions raised in the cases, without commenting on the facts or merits.

What do the interventions argue?

In the interventions, ENNHRI asserts that under Article 1 of the ECHR, a State can be held legally responsible for the effects of all emissions under its effective control that impact the human rights of individuals within its territory and the “espace juridique of the Convention. With reference to applicable international law, national court judgments in several Member States, as well as scientific evidence, ENNHRI argues, among other things, that:

  • Both individuals and associations should be granted access to effective rights protection in cases concerning climate change under Article 34 of the ECHR;
  • States must protect the right to life and physical integrity enshrined in Articles 2 and 8 of the ECHR by cutting their greenhouse gas emissions;
  • If States do not take into account the long-term interests of children and future generations in terms of having a liveable climate and being able to enjoy the same degree of rights and freedoms as we do today, this may constitute discrimination on the basis of date of birth under Article 14 of the ECHR.

The Grand Chamber hearings for KlimaSeniorinnen v. Switzerland and Carême v. France are scheduled for 29 March 2023 in Strasbourg. ENNHRI will make an oral intervention in KlimaSeniorinnen v. Switzerland and will be represented by Jenny Sandvig, Policy Director at the Norwegian National Human Rights Institution. The date for Duarte Agostinho and others v. Portugal will be fixed later.

ENNHRI intervenes before the Grand Chamber

On 29 March, Jenny Sandvig, Policy Director at the Norwegian National Human Rights Institution (NIM), represented ENNHRI before the Grand Chamber of the Court. She gave an oral intervention in the case KlimaSeniorinnen and others v. Switzerland. Watch her intervention at the ECHR Webcast – it starts at 1:23:30. Download her full speech and find out more information about the case.

Carême v. France was heard later in the day. Duarte Agostinho and others v. Portugal will be heard after the court returns from its summer break.

Further information and reading the submissions

The submissions were developed by ENNHRI members from the Norwegian National Human Rights Institution, the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, and the Office of the Hungarian Ombudsman for Future Generations. ENNHRI’s members, especially through the Legal Working Group and Core Group on the Climate Crisis and Human Rights, contributed to the submissions.

The interventions should be read jointly and in the chronological order of Duarte, KlimaSeniorinnen and Carême. Find them all below, alongside a wider ENNHRI paper on the topic:  

This article was updated on 6 February to include the date of the Grand Chamber hearing and on the 29th of March to include updates on ECHR hearing.