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Climate Rights are Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights binds the 46 member states of the Council of Europe to respect the rights of its people, and the UK was a founding member. Two weeks ago, on April 9th, the court ruled that people have a right to safety from climate disaster, and that right is an essential element of their right to life.


In a nutshell, this ruling means that almost 700 million people living in Council of Europe member states will have the right to take legal action against their governments when they can demonstrate that their climate rights are being violated.


It doesn’t encourage spurious legal action; you still have to prove your case, and that will take precision and diligence. But it does indicate that communities have a legal right to hold their governments to account on this crucial issue.


We’ve heard a range of responses. Some public figures have suggested we should cut our ties with the European Court of Human Rights to enable us to dodge its rulings.




Simpsons fans may recall the season six episode, Bart’s Comet, in which Bart discovers an approaching comet that threatens to destroy Springfield. It doesn’t, of course, and the episode ends with the townsfolk heading for the observatory to burn it down, to stop such a crisis from happening again.


“If we can’t see it, it can’t hurt us” is an excusable strategy for a cartoon character, or a child hiding from ghosts under the blankets. People facing an existential threat to their planet should try harder and aim higher.


In 2024 the People’s Library has seen positive community action on climate change from people of all ages and backgrounds. We’re inspired by the clear-sighted activism of Adella Pritchard and Simon Walkling of Christ Well URC. We’re inspired by the enthusiasm and commitment of Will Jones and Craig Roberts and their friends at Community Lives Consortium. We’re inspired by a collective determination to do the right thing and follow constructive conversation with meaningful action.


Now we’re inspired by this legal turning point. It sets a new agenda for climate litigation, widening the scope for the action we can take and the arguments we can use.


This month’s judgment went into detail on the steps governments must take to meet their environmental obligations. They must now set a firm deadline to reach climate neutrality, set out a coherent plan for meeting that goal and provide evidence that they’re staying on track.


Many climate change naysayers have been elected to public office, making them public servants. That title should mean something, and as members of the public we’re entitled to ask how well they’re serving us. If your approach to climate change opens you up to legal action from the people you’re supposed to be serving, maybe the European Court isn’t the problem? Maybe you should think about taking all that energy you’re using to find ways of dodging its unbiased rulings and try channelling it into finding ways of complying with them? It’s just a suggestion.

The next meeting of Project Green Light will include a Q&A about the implications of the European Court ruling, and we’ll discuss meaningful action our communities can take.

It’s official; climate rights are human rights and the People’s Library is ready to claim ours. Are you?


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