“We may be less well known than the Youth Climate Movement, but there are many more of us: We Older Women Against Climate Change.” In a trendy-looking campaign video, a group of elderly Swiss women speak the words with confidence. this “clima”As they call themselves Wed noon Before the Great Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. Activists are suing the Swiss government for human rights violations.
Their government, according to activists, falls short in tackling carbon dioxide2It is responsible for the suffering of old women, who are relatively unaffected by temperature extremes. This reasoning isn’t intuitive (yet): it’s the first time the European Court of Human Rights has heard a climate case, which in itself would mean a victory for climate activists.
If KlimaSeersenen wins the case, it would mean a potential legal earthquake for the 47 states party to the European Convention on Human Rights. A large number of lawsuits from environmental clubs against governments are likely to follow, according to University of Groningen environmental law professor Gerrit van der Veen. And, in his words, victory is certainly not excluded: “In light of modern jurisprudence, I give them a chance.” The fact that the European Court of Human Rights operates by hearing the case with seventeen judges, who together make up the Great Chamber, “in any case indicates how much importance is given to this case in the Court”.
According to Professor Ludwijk Smihuisen, Professor of Private Law at VU University Amsterdam, the appeal of the Klima seniors for human rights is an attractive option: “Climate change can have significant impacts on human rights.” Environmental groups around the world have increasingly recognized that, Graduated from the London School of Economics. Between 1986 and 2014, just over eight hundred climate cases were conducted. Twelve hundred more have been added through 2022.
Legal arguments from court cases can often be clearly transferred from one climate group to another
But the victories of environmental organizations in court are far from clear. Climate cases repeatedly face the same legal problem, sees Smihuisen. “Governments and individual companies are powerless to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change.” Even if the judge rules in favor of the activists, the negative consequences of climate change still linger after the ruling. “Normally, a judge will show you the door right away if he knows his ruling won’t have a direct impact on your situation,” says Smehuisin. So the lion’s share of climate activists are legally behind the network.
This includes KlimaS Seniorinnen, which in 2016 sued the Swiss government for allegedly violating the Paris climate treaty because it would not limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. The judge dismissed the charge. After all, international agreements have been made to reduce emissions, according to the court, and even if the 1.5-degree limit is not reached, it won’t happen for decades. By then, the old Klima would have long been dead, so their human rights could not be violated. The seniors have been in litigation for six years, culminating in the case of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
A legal shot of hail
Activists often use such “chill” to see what works. For example, Mobilization for the Environment threatens to go to court if a number of Dutch provinces do not revoke onerous agricultural permits. Sometimes it comes to the spot, as in the Netherlands in recent years. For example, there was the high-profile 2015 Urgenda case, where the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that CO2Emissions, compared to 1990, should fall by 25 percent by 2020. Not long after that, climate activists struck again: in 2021, the court in The Hague ruled that Shell had to cut its emissions by 45 percent in a year 2030. Both statements came out of the blue, says Prof. Smihuzen. But it’s no coincidence either.
Read also: After years of pressure, Vanuatu, threatened by climate change, opens the way to court
Smeehuijzen finds that such climate-related lawsuits, like those of KlimaSiorsenen, have accumulated in recent years. Climate activists who start this type of business form a large network. The day after a climate ruling, legal arguments and court rulings are emailed within those groups. People in that network are happy to help each other succeed.” Because a lawsuit requires very careful thinking, legal arguments can usually be clearly communicated from one climate group to another. This legal cross-pollination is easier when judicial thinking is based on treaties such as the Convention on Human Rights, According to Van der Veen.
But it’s not just climate lawyers who follow developments in the Netherlands (and abroad). Gradually, the judges also began to adopt different points of view. Smihuisien: “The climate issue is tangible and life-threatening, but addressing it lies outside the direct influence of individual companies and governments. If judges still want to rule in favor of prosecuting climate activists, they must reform the traditional core notions of the law.” Not all judges and academics are receptive to this, says Smeehuijzen. Slowly, “cracks” have appeared in some of the traditional judicial beliefs that have held climate activists back.
But he warns that talk of a shift in the judiciary is premature. Finally, the case against Shell still has to be heard on appeal, and the senior clima are yet to win their case in the European Court of Human Rights either. The court can still decide to reject the working group for lack of legal basis.
Serious climate regulation
However, the legal right is not the only gain that can be achieved for environmental organizations. After six years of litigation, the Great Clima Family has grown from a club of one hundred and fifty concerned grandmothers to a serious environmental organization that now has more than two thousand members. Their profits and losses, as well as those of the climate clubs Urgenda and Milieudefensie, are also echoed in other parts of the world. According to the London School of Economics, 88 climate cases have so far been brought against governments in the Global South.
This will be the first time that an international court of justice, like the European Court of Human Rights in the KlimaS Seniorinnen case, will rule on climate change.
For example, a mountain guide in Peru sued the German energy company RWE over an avalanche threatening his mountain village. German magistrates travel to the village promising that RWE will take responsibility if it is proven that the glacier is collapsing due to climate change and that the village is threatened as a result. Experts say the case has a good chance of success.
The island nation of Vanuatu, which is drowning in the Pacific Ocean due to rising sea levels, on Wednesday managed to get the United Nations to ask the International Court of Justice to investigate member states’ responsibilities to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions.2 To reduce.
This will be the first time that the International Court of Justice, just like the European Court of Human Rights in the KlimaS Seniorinnen case, will rule on climate change. This probably won’t be the last time.
In collaboration with Paul Luttikhuis
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper on March 30, 2023
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