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)

New factsheet on the execution of ECHR judgments concerning environment

20 OCTOBER 2020 Strasbourg

Although the European Convention on Human Rights does not contain an explicit right to a clean and quiet environment, the Court has developed its case-law and established that where an individual is directly and seriously affected by noise or other pollution, an issue may arise under the...

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World Forum for Democracy 2020/2021 – “Can Democracy Save the Environment?”

World Forum for Democracy 16 November 2020 Strasbourg

Officially launching on 18 November, the next World Forum for Democracy will bring together intellectuals, politicians, activists, experts and young people from around the world to discuss responses to the environmental crisis over a whole year leading up to the live Forum event to be held in...

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EUR-OPA Major Hazards Agreement: test your knowledge!

13 October

Do you think you already know everything about EUR-OPA? It’s time to find out if you really do! For over 30 years, the EUR-OPA Major Hazards Agreement (EUR-OPA) has provided a platform to reinforce and promote co-operation between its member states to ensure better protection against a major...

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Using human rights to fight climate change



“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