Oxfam: European Court of Human Rights provides a partial step forward for climate protection but a step back on international accountability

Published: 9th April 2024

In response to the decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the Grand Chamber’s first-ever climate-related cases (Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland, Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and Others, and Carême v. France), Evelien van Roemburg, Head of Oxfam’s European Union office said: 

“European judges have ruled that a government’s failure to do enough to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions violates its population’s human rights. This is a positive step and allows people to require their governments to put in place effective climate regulations and carbon budgets. But the judges did not challenge Switzerland’s decision to give itself almost three more decades to reach net zero emissions, even though people around the world are being harmed now by the climate crisis.”   

“The European Court of Human Rights also decided that Member States can’t be held accountable for the harms their emissions cause to people beyond their borders. The way the Court has interpreted the European Convention on Human Rights is out of step with the way the International Court of Justice, United Nations, Inter-American and African human rights courts and human rights treaty monitoring bodies have interpreted international human rights law. Until the European Court holds its Member States responsible when their actions harm people outside their borders, it can expect that affected communities across the world will seek to hold them to account before other international courts and mechanisms.”  

“The Court’s decision implies governments can set climate policy without considering the damages they inflict on other people —especially people living in the Global South, who have done the least to cause climate breakdown yet are facing the most punishing heat, droughts and floods. And it also implies European governments have impunity for all the harms they cause. This approach undermines the purpose of having a human rights treaty.”  

Notes to editors

Oxfam was a Third-Party Intervenor in the case, in partnership with Our Children’s Trust and the Center for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, and with the Center for Climate Repair at Cambridge University joining the sections on climate science. The organizations argued that the current level of planetary heating (~1.1°C–1.3°C) is unsafe for people and communities across the world, violating their human rights to life and to a private and family life. 

They argued that governments can’t aim only to meet the temperature targets set forth in the 2015 Paris Agreement (limiting global heating to 1.5°C–2.0°C), but must take every feasible step to reduce CO2 to 350 parts per million (ppm) as soon as possible. 

Oxfam has also made legal submissions to international courts considering Advisory Opinions on Climate Change, specifically the International Court of Justice, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.  

Contact information

Annie Thériault in Peru | annie.theriault@oxfam.org | +51 936 307 990  
For updates, please follow @NewsFromOxfam and @OxfamEU