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Case Note on VEREIN KLIMASENIORINNEN SCHWEIZ AND OTHERS v. SWITZERLAND. An Evolving Jurisprudence under Article 8 of the European Convention

The post deals with the most recent landmark case from the European Court of Human Rights that refocuses relevant discourse by creating human rights obligations for states in terms of decreasing the harmful effects of climate change.

Climate change represents one of the most pressing challenges of our time, with profound implications for both the environment and human rights. In another post on this blog, Dorina Bosits conceptualized a “new” approach to human rights in the context of the right to a healthy environment, by briefly mentioning the novel approach the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) took to the issue in the deservingly world-famous KlimaSeniorinnen case. I expound on her thoughts below, by describing how the Court has again demonstrated the strategic use of interpreting the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as a living instrument that evolves with contemporary standards and international law. In this context, climate change disputes introduce unique complexities in terms of causation and state responsibility, necessitating a nuanced judicial approach. This essay explores how the ECtHR addresses these challenges, particularly under Article 8, which guarantees the right to respect for private and family life.

Generally speaking, the Court through its interpretation of Article 2 on the right to life and Article 8 on private and family life, has recognized that States should hold positive obligations to prevent environmental risks that may endanger the right to life.

It affirmed in the Budayeva and Others v Russia case that in the context of dangerous activities, the scope of the positive obligations under Article 2 of the Convention (right to life) largely overlaps with those under Article 8 (right to private, family life). Consequently, the principles developed in the Court’s case-law relating to planning and environmental matters affecting private life and home may also be relied on for the protection of the right to life. However, What progress has been made in the Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland case?

The Living Instrument Doctrine and Climate Change

The ECtHR’s interpretation of the ECHR as a living instrument requires that current developments and conditions be taken into account. This principle is particularly pertinent in the realm of climate change, where scientific evidence, the urgency of mitigation efforts, and the intrinsic link between environmental degradation and human rights must inform judicial decisions. Addressing climate change within the framework of the ECHR demands an approach that integrates:

–          Current and developing scientific evidence,

–          The urgency of combating climate change,

–          The recognized link between climate change’s adverse effects and human rights.

Article 8 and Environmental Cases

Article 8 of the ECHR, which safeguards the right to private and family life, has been interpreted to apply to environmental cases. This extends to situations where environmental harm is directly caused by the State or results from the State’s failure to regulate private industry adequately. In the context of climate change, this interpretation implies a duty on the part of States to protect individuals from serious adverse effects on their life, health, well-being, and quality of life resulting from climate change.

Causation in Climate Change Disputes

Climate change disputes differ from traditional environmental cases due to their global scale and complexity. These disputes raise unique causation issues, which are crucial in determining victim status and the substantive obligations of States under the ECHR. The ECtHR has outlined four dimensions of causation in climate change disputes:

–          Scientific Link between GHG Emissions and Climate Change: This dimension focuses on the scientific understanding that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions contribute to climate change. The court must assess the robustness of scientific evidence linking emissions to climate change phenomena.

–          Link between Climate Change Effects and Human Rights: The second dimension concerns the connection between the adverse effects of climate change and the risk these pose to the enjoyment of human rights. This includes both current and future impacts on individuals’ rights to life, health, and well-being.

–          Individual Harm and State Actions or Omissions: The third dimension examines the specific harm or risk of harm experienced by individuals or groups and the extent to which these can be attributed to State actions or omissions. This requires a detailed analysis of how State policies or lack thereof contribute to the harm suffered by claimants.

–          State Responsibility and Multiple Actors: The final dimension addresses the attribution of responsibility to a particular State amidst the contributions of multiple actors to global GHG emissions. This involves determining the extent to which a state can be held accountable for the collective impact of global emissions on individual rights.

State Obligations and Responsibilities

The ECtHR’s approach to climate change under Article 8 necessitates that States take effective measures to mitigate climate change and protect individuals from its adverse effects. This includes:

–          Implementing and enforcing regulations to reduce GHG emissions,

–          Adopting policies aimed at transitioning to sustainable energy sources,

–          Ensuring that private industries comply with environmental standards,

–          Providing remedies and protections for those adversely affected by climate change.

The urgency of these measures is underscored by the accelerating pace of climate change and its increasingly severe impacts on human rights. States must balance their economic and developmental goals with their obligations to safeguard the environment and human rights.


The ECtHR’s evolving jurisprudence reflects the critical intersection of climate change and human rights. By interpreting the ECHR as a living instrument, the Court acknowledges the dynamic and complex nature of climate change disputes. Article 8’s applicability to environmental cases highlights the State’s duty to protect individuals from the serious adverse effects of climate change on their life, health, and well-being. The intricate issues of causation and State responsibility necessitate a comprehensive and scientifically informed approach, ensuring that human rights are upheld in the face of one of the greatest global challenges of our time.

Muhanad Alamro is a PhD candidate at the Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary. He has worked as a legal assistant at the Ministry of Justice of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. His research focus is state responsibility for climate change damages.

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