27 Sep 2023

History in the making: ENNHRI speaks before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in major climate case

On 27 September 2023, ENNHRI intervened orally before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) in the historic climate case Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and Others. In its intervention, ENNHRI argued that states must protect people on their territory from the harmful effects of emissions under their effective control. It also urged the Court to play its role in securing the effective protection of human rights against the negative impacts of climate change.

2023 has been a significant year: the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has heard its first climate change-related cases. ENNHRI has been heavily involved in each of these.

Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and Others

In the Duarte case, six Portuguese children and young people argue that Portugal and over 30 other European states are not doing enough to protect them from the impacts of climate change during their lifetime. The claimants have argued that the states concerned are failing to comply with their positive obligations under Articles 2 (right to life) and 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

During the hearing, ENNHRI was represented by Adele Matheson Mestad, Director at the Norwegian National Human Rights Institution. In her oral intervention, she argued that children may be victims of climate change’s impacts and that “there is no doubt that emissions disproportionately cause mental and physical harm for children in Portugal.”

Furthermore, she asserted that “recognising potential victimhood in climate cases for vulnerable children, with little democratic influence, would allow them to challenge climate policies that put them at risk of harm before climate change becomes irreversible.” Together with the European Commission and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, ENNHRI was one of only three third parties granted the right to intervene orally.

KlimaSeniorinnen v. Switzerland and Carême v. France

In March this year, two other climate case hearings took place before the Grand Chamber: Carême v. France and KlimaSeniorinnen v. Switzerland. ENNHRI contributed to the first through a written submission.

For the second, ENNHRI spoke before the Grand Chamber, represented by Jenny Sandvig, Policy Director at the Norwegian National Human Rights Institution. The case concerns four older women and an association who argue 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 her intervention, she urged the court to “use its power to protect vulnerable individuals from irreversible and escalating climate harm” and to “uphold individual rights at this critical juncture in history.”

Judgments with historic significance

The Court’s final rulings in these cases will be historic. This represents an unique opportunity to grant over 675 million people within the Council of Europe region the right to be protected from climate change.

As concluded in its oral pleadings to the Duarte case, “ENNHRI does not contend that courts can solve the climate crisis alone. But this Court must play its part, as all others must play theirs. Only then can the Convention system keep its place as the world’s leading protector of human rights in the 21st century.”

The full picture – ENNHRI’s written and oral interventions to the Court

Discover all of ENNHRI’s written and oral interventions in these three landmark climate cases below, alongside other material.

Watch the recordings and read the transcripts of ENNHRI’s oral interventions in both the Duarte and KlimaSeniorinnen cases:

The written interventions should be read jointly and in the chronological order of Duarte, KlimaSeniorinnen and Carême, while ENNHRI has also released a paper on the broader topic: