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Austria faces Climate Change Litigation

Author: Dr. Angelika Hellweger  10 July 2024
2 min read

Angelika Hellweger of Rahman Ravelli explains the legal action being brought by one man against Austria.

A multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferer has brought legal action against Austria, claiming it has failed to reduce the impact of climate change.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has given notice to Austria of the action, which accuses the country of not taking effective measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This case, Müllner v. Austria, comes after a number of landmark ECHR climate-related judgements against countries. 

Mr Müllner, who was born in 1980, says his MS is worsened by high temperatures. He has argued that the Austrian government’s granting of tax benefits to the aviation industry is not in line with the climate action needed to protect his rights. The court is giving priority to the case, due to the seriousness of Mr Müllner's health condition.

The ECHR has asked the government of Austria to submit its observations regarding the accusation that it has failed to reduce the impact of climate change, in particular global warming, by taking effective measures to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions and limit the increase in the global average temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. 

Four years ago, Mr Müllner challenged aspects of Austria’s Value Added Tax Act, Mineral Oil Tax Act and Aviation Benefits Regulation in the Austrian Constitutional Court. But the court rejected his argument that providing tax benefits to the aviation industry and not to railway companies was promoting the most climate-damaging mode of transport over others. The court said his complaint was inadmissible as he was not the intended recipient of the provisions regulating tax benefits for companies and these did not interfere with his legal interests.

Mr Müllner then lodged his application with the ECHR in 2021. Examination of the application was adjourned until the outcome of a number of climate-related cases, including KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz, Duarte Agostinho, and Carême.  

His case has now been given priority under Rule 41 of the Rules of the Court, due to the urgency of the issues raised and the deterioration of Mr Müllner’s health. He is basing his case on the European Convention of Human Rights’ Articles 6 (right to a fair trial), Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy if rights are violated).

Mr Müllner is arguing that the Austrian Constitutional Court took an overly formalistic approach when deciding on his complaint, which violated his right of access to a court. He believes that Austria has not established an adequate framework to meet its targets for reducing the global rise of temperatures - although reaching such targets would improve his well-being - and that the national legal system does not have an effective remedy for these complaints.

Just like the KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz case ruling (that climate protection is a human right) was only binding on Switzerland, any ruling in favour of Mr Müllner would only apply to Austria. But if he is successful, his case will have a significant impact on climate change-related disputes around the world. A ruling in favour of Mr Müllner is also likely to further strengthen  the role of international human rights law in climate change-related litigation.

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Dr. Angelika Hellweger

Legal Director

angelika.hellweger@rahmanravelli.co.uk
+44 (0)203 597 9783 vCard

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Angelika is a specialist in international, high-level economic crime investigations and large-scale commercial disputes. She has widely-recognised expertise in representing corporates and conglomerates in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and United States.

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