UK Energy Secretary slams EU court ruling that green policy inaction undermines human rights

Coutinho argued that the “net zero leviathan" could crush the UK's brilliant enterprise economy.  

Yesterday (9 April), the European Court of Human Rights, also known as the Strasbourg Court, ruled in favour of more than 2,000 Swiss women who had argued that their national government’s actions to address climate change were insufficient and exposed them to increased danger of death during heatwaves.

This marks the first time where a regional human rights tribunal declared that nations could breach human rights by not sufficiently decreasing their emissions in a timely manner.

It has been broadly hailed as a landmark milestone by climate campaigners.

However, after the decision was made, the UK’s Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net-Zero Coutinho took  to social media platform X to express how she was “concerned by the Strasbourg Court decision.”

She argued that dealing with climate change affects a nation’s economy, energy and national security, and that “elected politicians are best placed to make those decisions”.

Moreover, several other Tory members are leveraging the Strasbourg Court ruling to demand for another post-Brexit separation between the UK and the EU law, criticising the court for behaving in a manner they deem “profoundly undemocratic” and being influenced by “progressive” activists and politicians.

The decision applies to all the states that have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and is anticipated to shape legislation across the EU members states, as well as the UK, who was the first to ratify the Convention in 1951.

This implies that individuals and organisations could litigate if the UK Government falls short of achieving its net-zero or environmental objectives.

In response to Coutinho’s stance, several climate scientists and sustainability professionals have embraced the ruling from the Strasbourg Court, asserting that neglecting to address climate change, in fact, impacts national and energy security.

Local legal action in the UK

Until now, attempts to make such cases on the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights have not succeeded in the UK.

While it ruled in favour of the Swiss activists, the Strasbourg Court also dismissed two similar cases, the initial one filed by six Portuguese youths against 32 governments, including every EU member state, as well as Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, Russia and the UK.

The court stated that the group did not exhaust all options for legal actions in Portugal before heading to the EU, which it believes should have been the course of action.

Green groups have taken the UK Government to court before for its “weak and unlawful” strategy to meet its net-zero commitments, with the High Court ruling in favour of the environmental organisations and asking the Government to revise its approach.

Earlier this year, the same groups filed another legal challenge against the Government deeming its updated strategy still “deficient”.

The ruling by the European Court of Human Rights could present another possibility for individuals and organisations to legally demand greater effectiveness in climate action from the Government.

Comments (2)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    Elected politicians are not the ones best placed to make decisions in this area, those best placed are those scientifically knowledgeable.
    Politicians are those best placed to act upon scientific knowledge.
    This is the province of the scientist.
    The duty of the politician is to use his or her skill to pass this considered opinion into law.
    Mutual knowledge of the others’ skill is the lubricant of democracy.

  2. Richard Phillips says:

    Errata. My second should read “…are not those best placed….”

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