Switzerland’s Inaction On Climate Crisis Breaches Human Rights, Says Landmark Court Case

Europe's ECHR has ruled that the Swiss government's inaction on climate change breaches human rights


3 Minutes Read

Photo shows the women of KlimaSeniorinnen celebrating their victory at the ECHR In a case brought by KlimaSeniorinnen, the ECHR ruled that the Swiss government has not done enough to mitigate climate change - Media Credit: Miriam Künzli / Greenpeace

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) just ruled that Switzerland’s weak climate crisis policies breach its citizens’ human rights.

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KlimaSeniorinnen (Swiss Elders for Climate Protection), a collective of around 2,500 Swiss women with an average age of 73, told the court that several of their basic human rights had been violated. For example, because older women are more likely to die during severe heat waves, the group argued that Switzerland has not done its share to mitigate global warming.

KlimaSeniorinnen spent several years unsuccessfully battling Swiss courts before escalating the case to the ECHR, found that the Swiss government had not prepared a suitable plan to cut emissions and that applicants had not had access to justice in national courts.

“This ruling is a landmark in the struggle for a liveable climate for everyone,” said Anne Mahrer, Co-President of the Swiss Senior Women for Climate Protection, in a release. “We have been fighting for climate justice for nine years with the support of Greenpeace.”

“After the Swiss courts refused to hear us, the ECHR has now confirmed that climate protection is a human right,” added Mahrer.

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ECHR rules that Swiss inaction on climate change breaches human rights

Photo shows the women of KlimaSeniorinnen celebrating their victory outside the ECHR with flags and banners
Shervine Nafissi / Greenpeace The historic decision on the Swiss government’s responsibility for climate change could set a Europe-wide precedent

Two other climate cases were unsuccessfully brought to the ECHR – one by a group of 32 young Portuguese people against 32 European countries, and one by a French mayor against France. While cases are notably different, all three were based on the question of whether government inaction on climate change violates human rights. The ECHR also rejected four cases brought by individual applicants from the KlimaSeniorinnen.

The decision to hold the Swiss government accountable has been described as a historic one by many observers, and the ECHR, which refers to itself as “the conscience of Europe,” has still set a precedent for all 46 member states moving forward.

“The significance of this decision cannot be overestimated,” explained Cordelia Bähr, the lead lawyer for the Swiss Senior Women for Climate Protection.

“It will be of great importance for further climate lawsuits against states and companies worldwide and increase their chances of success. The judgment shows citizens, judges, and governments across Europe what is needed in terms of climate protection,” added Bähr.

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