After unsuccessful attempts to sue the Swiss government through Switzerland’s court system challenging the government’s insufficient climate policies, a group of Swiss senior women are taking their case to the European Court of Human Rights. This will be the second climate change case filed before the international human rights court in recent months, with a group of Portuguese youth lodging a complaint in September against 33 European countries including Switzerland.
The Swiss seniors say their fundamental rights and their health are at risk from the worsening climate crisis and associated impacts, particularly extreme heat. They formed a group called Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland and in 2016 launched a legal challenge to their government’s climate policies, which they say don’t go far enough to slash greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate breakdown.
Swiss courts have dismissed the women’s case, however, prompting the group to turn to the European Court of Human Rights. The Swiss senior women announced their submission to this court, located in Strasbourg, France, on October 27. An official legal filing will take place in the coming weeks.
According to a press release from Greenpeace International, which is supporting the case, a delegation of Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland has sailed the Rhine River from Basel to Strasbourg onboard the Greenpeace ship MV Beluga-II, to make a symbolic in-person delivery of their claim to the European Court of Human Rights. The senior women were joined in Strasbourg by representatives of other landmark climate cases such as the French case “L’Affaire du Siècle” (Case of the Century).
Georg Klingler, climate campaigner at Greenpeace Switzerland, said this case is part of a growing chorus of demands for action in the face of a climate and health emergency
“Greenpeace Switzerland has helped the senior women to build their case because it’s clear that the climate crisis is a public health crisis,” he said in the press release. “Despite enjoying a reputation as human rights champions, the Swiss government and courts have completely dismissed the plea for justice in the face of the climate emergency. Seniors, youth, women and many other groups keep raising the climate alarm here and around the world. When will governments act for the well-being of their people?”
An increasing number of climate court cases around the world, many of them in Europe, are challenging national governments’ climate policies and targets to rein in emissions because they are not protective enough to prevent dangerous warming and do not align with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement that aims to limit warming to well below 2 degrees C. The Swiss lawsuit specifically argued the government’s emissions reduction targets (under discussion at the time of initial filing) of 20% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 30% by 2030 were insufficient and called for stronger emissions cuts of at least 25% (below 1990 levels) by 2020 and at least 50% by 2030. The lawsuit claimed that failure to take stronger climate action constituted violations of the Swiss constitution and of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Swiss Federal Administrative Court rejected the senior women’s claims in a 2018 ruling, and in May 2020 the Swiss Supreme Court upheld that ruling. The Supreme Court determined that a violation of human rights could not be claimed until the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goal is exceeded, according to a Greenpeace summary of the ruling.
“With climate change increasingly getting out of control, we cannot wait for politicians to decide when it will be convenient for them to protect fundamental rights. Human rights are the guardrails of governmental action, so our courts must do their best to preserve those rights. That is why the board is proposing to our more than seventeen hundred members to take our legal claim to Strasbourg now,” Rosmarie Wydler-Wälti, Co-President Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland,” said in a press release responding to the Supreme Court decision earlier this year.
“Our demand for the Swiss government is simple: protect our health in the face of the climate crisis,” Wydler-Wälti said in the press release announcing the submission to the ECHR. “The absurd logic of the national courts is that we cannot seek protection until it’s too late, so we’re taking Switzerland to the European Court of Human Rights.”