In recent years, there has been a growing trend in people and organisations also using Europe’s unparalleled system for protecting human rights to help tackle environmental problems.

A number of the international legal standards developed by the Council of Europe – notably including the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Social Charter and the Bern Convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats – have successfully been invoked to help make progress on environmental issues.

The European Court of Human Rights has so far ruled on some 300 environment-related cases, applying concepts such as the right to life, free speech and family life to a wide range of issues including pollution, man-made or natural disasters and access to environmental information.

The European Convention on Human Rights has also been used by campaigners at the national level to encourage governments to take further steps to tackle climate change and the degradation of the natural environment.

Successive Council of Europe presidencies, and various other parts of the organisation, have called for existing legal tools to be further strengthened in order to help European states deal with the considerable environmental challenges that we all face.

News news

First climate change application to be examined by the Court

30 November 2020

The European Court of Human Rights has formally asked 33 Council of Europe member states to respond to a climate change lawsuit brought by six young campaigners from Portugal. The case concerns greenhouse gas emissions which are believed to be contributing to global warming and manifested, among other things, by heat waves which would impact the living conditions and health of the applicants. The applicants, aged between 8 and 21 years, claim that the forest fires that Portugal has experienced every year for several years, in particular since 2017, are the direct result of global warming to which such emissions have contributed.

The Court will examine the admissibility and the merits of the case in light of the parties’ observations (French only)

Let us make Europe a safe place for environmental human rights defenders

Commissioner for Human Rights 25 May 2021 Strasbourg

In 2017 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a group of dedicated grassroots environmental activists staged a 500-day-long protest against the construction of new hydropower dams on the Kruščica river. The fight led by local women, who later came to be known as the Brave Women of Kruščica, met with many...

Read More

Human rights and the environment: New online course for legal professionals

Council of Europe 30 April 2021 Strasbourg

The Council of Europe’s HELP programme (Human rights Education for Legal Professionals) has launched a new online course on the environment and human rights. The six-hour course, which is available free of charge via the HELP online platform, has been developed by experts on the European...

Read More

Human Rights and Climate Change: What Role for the European Convention on Human Rights?

European Court of Human Rights 2 March 2021 Strasbourg

Judge Tim Eicke, judge in respect of the United Kingdom at the European Court of Human Rights, has delivered the Goldsmiths Law inaugural annual human rights lecture, entitled “Human Rights and Climate Change: What Role for the European Convention on Human Rights?”, at an online event on Tuesday...

Read More

multimedia multimedia

Using human rights to address environmental issues



“Climate litigation – what you need to know”

What is the relationship between the environment and the protection of human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights? How can human rights law contribute to strengthening environmental protection at national level? What is the relevant case-law of the European Court of Human Rights?
Find out more about the dynamics of environmental litigation in Europe