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STRASBOURG: The European Court of Human Rights has, for the first time in law, acknowledged government failure to implement sufficient measures to combat climate change.

A case brought by the Swiss Climate Seniors Association (SCSA) claimed Swiss authorities were not taking seriously the impact of global warming on their living conditions and health.

In a vote 16:1, the Court concluded Switzerland’s Confederation had indeed violated Article 8 of the Convention that provides the right to respect for private and family life. The dissenting opinion by British judge Tim Eicke suggested it was beyond the Court’s remit to reach such a conclusion.

The ruling, from the Court’s Grand Chamber and therefore final was by 17 judges: Síofra O’Leary (Ireland) President, Georges Ravarani (Luxembourg), Marko Bošnjak (Slovenia), Gabriele Kucsko-Stadlmayer (Austria), Pere Pastor Vilanova (Andorra), Arnfinn Bårdsen (Norway), Pauliine Koskelo (Finland), Tim Eicke (the United Kingdom), Jovan Ilievski (North Macedonia), Darian Pavli (Albania), Raffaele Sabato (Italy), Lorraine Schembri Orland (Malta), Anja Seibert-Fohr (Germany), Peeter Roosma (Estonia), Ana Maria Guerra Martins (Portugal), Mattias Guyomar (France), Andreas Zünd (Switzerland), plus Søren Prebensen, Deputy Grand Chamber Registrar.

In a subsequent unanimous vote, the Court also determined the SCSA’s right of access under Article 6 had been violated, noting Swiss courts had not provided convincing reasons as to why they “failed to take into consideration the compelling scientific evidence concerning climate change and had not taken the [Association’s] complaints seriously”.

"With its latest ruling, the European Court of Human Rights has expressed its opinion on the core issue of international climate policy - the question of responsibility,” noted Ottmar Edenhofer, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “The fact that the court ruled in favour of the Swiss Climate Seniors Association and recognized inadequate climate policy as a violation of human rights is groundbreaking. This ruling should also remind other states of their international obligations: those who set climate targets are responsible for meeting them.”

Published on the same day as the Court ruling, a report by Oil Change International and Friends of the Earth United States, claims between 2020 and 2022 G20 governments and multilateral development banks (MDBs) provided US$142 billion in international public finance for fossil fuels, compared to US$104 billion for clean energy in the same period.

The top three government fossil fuel financiers per annum were Canada (US$10.9 billion), Korea (US$10 billion) and Japan (US$6.9 billion) followed by China, Italy, U.S., Germany, Russia, Argentina and Saudi Arabia.

By contrast the top annual providers of clean energy finance between 2020 and 2022 were France (US$2.7 billion), Japan (US$2.3 billion) and Germany (US$2.3 billion).

“While rich countries continue to drag their feet and claim they can’t afford to fund a globally just energy transition, countries like Canada, Korea, Japan, and the U.S. appear to have no shortage of public funds for climate-wrecking fossil fuels,” commented Claire O’Manique, Public Finance analyst at Oil Change International.
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