This is a first: the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) examines Wednesday 29 March two applications related to climate change against France and Switzerland, accused of not acting sufficiently against its effects.

Swiss pensioners denounce the consequences of global warming on their health, while Paris is sued by the former mayor of a northern commune threatened by rising waters.

This is the first time that the ECHR, which sits in Strasbourg, has considered climate applications in open court, after a multiplication of legal actions at the national level.

In 2019, the Dutch Supreme Court ordered the government to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020, following a complaint from an environmental group. In 2021, the Administrative Court of Paris had condemned the State to "repair" the consequences of its shortcomings in the fight against global warming, giving reason to a collective of four NGOs united under the banner "The Case of the Century" and supported by a petition of more than 2.3 million citizens.

On Wednesday, the ECHR will begin studying the Swiss case at 9:15 a.m., followed by the French case at 14:15 p.m. The court is not expected to issue its decisions for several months.


"This is a historic event," said Anne Mahrer, 64, a spokeswoman for the Swiss Elders for Climate Protection. Supported by Greenpeace Switzerland, this association has more than 2,000 members, with an average age of 73, about fifty of whom will travel to Strasbourg, Anne Mahrer told AFP.

For 20 years, "all reports show that everyone is affected" by global warming, and "older women" are "particularly vulnerable in cardiovascular or respiratory terms," says this former Green MP.

Before the ECHR, his association intends to invoke several violations of articles of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights, in particular the one guaranteeing the right to life.

The action of the Elders to force Switzerland to act more for the climate had started in 2016, with a series of appeals, which remained in vain. However, Switzerland is "a rich country (...) which should be exemplary and which is not," says Anne Mahrer.

'Climate inaction'

The second file examined is a request from the former mayor of Grande-Synthe (North), Damien Carême, now MEP Europe Ecology-The Greens (EELV). In 2019, he had, in his own name and as mayor, seized the Council of State for "climate inaction", considering that his municipality, located on the coast, was threatened with submersion.

The highest administrative court had ruled in favor of the municipality in July 2021, leaving nine months for the France to "take all necessary measures" to bend "the curve of greenhouse gas emissions" to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement (-40% by 2030 compared to 1990). On the other hand, Damien Carême's request in his own name was rejected and he appealed to the ECHR.

The 62-year-old MEP maintains that the France's "deficiency" vis-à-vis its objectives affects him "directly" since it "increases the risks that his home will be affected" by the rising waters, the Court said in a statement.

"The stakes are extremely high," former environment minister Corinne Lepage, Carême's lawyer, told AFP. If the ECHR rules in favour of the latter, "this case-law would apply in all Council of Europe States and potentially in all States of the world".

In addition to these two cases, the ECHR will examine, probably after the summer, another major climate case, that of young Portuguese who have sued their country and 32 other States for their supposed inaction against global warming.

With AFP

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