‘A Massive Win for All Generations’: European Human Rights Court Rules Switzerland Violated Rights With Climate Inaction


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In a historic ruling, the European Court of Human Rights has found that Switzerland’s inadequate efforts to tackle climate change violated the human rights of its country’s citizens, represented by more than 2,000 older Swiss women.

The landmark decision sets a powerful precedent for future climate-related lawsuits in Europe and around the world.

“It is clear that future generations are likely to bear an increasingly severe burden of the consequences of present failures and omissions to combat climate change,” said Siofra O’Leary, president of the court of human rights, as Reuters reported.

The court rejected a case brought by six Portuguese youth against 32 governments in Europe for current and future climate change impacts, as well as a suit brought by a former mayor against the town of Grande-Synthe, who said France had not done enough to prevent global heating.

The group of Swiss women — all over the age of 64 — argued that they were more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to their age and gender and that their health had been put at risk by heat waves the government had not done enough to prevent.

O’Leary explained that the Swiss government had not met its own greenhouse gas emissions targets and had been unsuccessful in establishing a national carbon budget.

Elisabeth Stern, 76-year-old member of KlimaSeniorinnen — “Senior Women for Climate Protection,” as the group of Swiss women is known — told the BBC that she had witnessed Switzerland’s changing climate since her youth spent on a farm.

“Some of us are just made that way. We are not made to sit in a rocking chair and knit. We know statistically that in 10 years we will be gone. So whatever we do now, we are not doing for ourselves, but for the sake of our children and our children’s children,” Stern told BBC News.

Rosmarie Wydler-Wälti, one of the leaders of the KlimaSeniorinnen, was stunned by the full weight of the verdict.

“We keep asking our lawyers, ‘Is that right?’” Wydler-Wälti said, as reported by Reuters. “And they tell us ‘it’s the most you could have had. The biggest victory possible’.”

It is not an option to appeal the court’s ruling in the Swiss case, which will have lasting effects around the world. Importantly, the decision establishes legal precedent for the 46 nations that have signed on to the European Convention on Human Rights.

According to experts, the judgment could help strengthen other climate cases based on human rights pending in international courts, as well as encourage similar future lawsuits.

“Today’s rulings against Switzerland sets a historic precedent that applies to all European countries,” said Gerry Liston, attorney with Global Legal Action Network, which helped support the Portuguese youth case, in a statement, as CNN reported. “It means that all European countries must urgently revise their targets so that they are science-based and aligned to 1.5 degrees. This is a massive win for all generations.”

Switzerland will now have a legal obligation to implement more measures to reduce its climate-warming emissions, reported Reuters.

Lucy Maxwell, co-director of Climate Litigation Network — a nonprofit based in the Netherlands — said the Swiss government’s continued failure to improve its policies could lead to more lawsuits at the national level.

Switzerland has made a commitment to cut its emissions in half by 2030, as compared to 1990 levels. More strict rules had been proposed by Bern to reach the target, but were rejected in a 2021 vote.

In the Portuguese youth climate case, the decision of the court stated that, although a nation’s greenhouse gas emissions may adversely impact those living outside its borders, there was not a justification for prosecution across multiple jurisdictions.

At the same time, the court noted that legal options within the national court system of Portugal had not been fully utilized.

“I really hoped that we would win against all the countries,” said Sofia Oliveira, a member of the Portuguese youth, as Reuters reported. “But the most important thing is that the Court has said in the Swiss women’s case that governments must cut their emissions more to protect human rights. So, their win is a win for us too and a win for everyone.”

This article originally appeared on EcoWatch and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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This article originally appeared on EcoWatch and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

Like MediaFeed's content? Be sure to follow us.