Updated Mar 30, 2023, 8:32am EDT
net zeroEurope

What you need to know about two landmark climate cases brought against Switzerland and France

European Union flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 1, 2023.REUTERS/Johanna Geron
REUTERS/Johanna Geron

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The News

For the first time in its history, the European Court of Human Rights heard two cases accusing governments of violating the human rights of their citizens due to inaction on addressing climate change.

The court heard two separate lawsuits on Wednesday: One was brought by a group of Swiss seniors against Switzerland’s government, and the other by a French Member of the European Parliament against the government of France.

Here’s what you need to know about the two landmark cases, and the rise of climate lawsuits globally.

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Know More

The Swiss group, composed of senior women who call themselves KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz, or Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland, argue their health is at risk from the increased frequency of heat waves and that the government is not doing enough to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The case will examine whether their right to life and respect for private and family life are being violated by a lack of action on mitigating climate change. The Swiss government, for its part, has called for the case to be dismissed, calling it “manifestly ill-founded.”


In a second case heard on Wednesday, Damien Carême, a French MEP, argued that France was not doing enough to mitigate climate change.

Carême, who lives in the north of France, argued his home is at risk of flooding, a risk to his life and health. He said that arguments made to the French government have gone unaddressed.

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Step Back

Climate change lawsuits are becoming more common worldwide: There have been around 2,000 climate lawsuits filed since the 1980s, with a quarter of those submitted within the last two years.

Semafor reported last month that such lawsuits are becoming more frequent as the science behind anthropogenic climate change has become clearer.

Legislative tactics are regularly used by climate youth activists, but the Swiss and French lawsuits are the first to reach a court like the ECHR. A third case has been filed at the European court by six young people in Portugal, CNN reported. They claim that 33 European countries are putting their health and lives at risk by not acting on climate.

Companies are also facing a growing wave of lawsuits. In a successful case against Shell in 2021, the Hague ordered the oil giant to reduce its emissions by 45%, a finding the company has appealed.

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The View From Austria

In February, a group of children aged five to 16 from Austria sued their government, using the country’s expansive children’s rights laws to argue that an existing climate law was unconstitutional.