The European Union and global warming: A fundamental right to (live in) a sustainable climate?

By: O. Quirico

DOI: 1023263X231202481


Multiple developments are taking place in the European Union (EU) as concerns climate action through fundamental rights. On the one hand, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) might afford protection from climate change via first- and second-generation human rights; on the other, the EU is progressively recognizing the human right to a sustainable environment, and possibly to a sustainable climate, via Article 37 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. These developments are nonetheless restrained by the limited possibility for individual natural and legal persons to act in the Court. On the other hand, EU Member States are parties to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which the EU will also foreseeably accede in the future and through which a string of claims has been brought to the attention of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Also in this context, protection from climate change might be afforded via first- and second-generation fundamental rights, and possibly via the third-generation right to a sustainable environment and climate. Contrary to the CJEU system, however, there are no pro- cedural limits to action by individual natural and legal persons in the ECtHR. The article argues that an extensive interpretation of first- and second-generation human rights, particularly the rights to life and to private and family life under ECHR articles 2 and 8, collectively interpreted as the rights to live in a sustainable environment and climate in line with the jurisprudence of the ECtHR, reverses the burden of proof and is essentially tantamount to acknowledging an inde- pendent fundamental right to a sustainable environment and climate, thus ensuring adequate cli- mate protection in the EU from a human rights perspective.

Dr. Ottavio Quirico was a guest scholar  at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Lund during the period August 1 – September 14, 2022.

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