Home » Swiss seniors win big at International court, emissions reduction targets for European countries set

Swiss seniors win big at International court, emissions reduction targets for European countries set

Swiss seniors win big at International court, emissions reduction targets for European countries set

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg, France, on Tuesday, issued a ruling, in favour of a group of Swiss senior women, setting a precedent with implications for European countries’ climate policies.

Rosmarie Wydler-Walti and Anne Mahrer, of the Swiss elderly women group Senior Women for Climate Protection, attend the hearing of the court for the ruling in the climate case Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland, at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg,, France April 9, 2024. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann(REUTERS)

The ECtHR ruled that the Swiss senior women’s human rights were being harmed by the impacts of the climate crisis and that Switzerland’s weak effort to reduce emissions violates its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), further indicating that all European countries must come up with science-based targets that are aligned with the 1.5 degree Celsius limit. While the ECtHR does not have the power to sanction governments for failing to comply with its judgments, this ruling can be reiterated at the national level to hold governments accountable for the failure to comply with them.

Maintaining temperatures to the 1.5°C limit, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), means significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the average global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, aiming to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change. If it gets warmer close to or more than 2 degrees Celsius, the world could witness much worse weather, loss of livelihood, and higher possibilities of disasters due to climate change.

A big win

The EtCHR, in the Swiss senior women’s case, found that the rights under two Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) had been violated — the right to privacy and family life (Article 8) and The right to a fair hearing (Article 6).

The Swiss women, part of the group KlimaSeniorinnen or Senior Women for Climate Protection, took their government to the EtCHR for Switzerland’s failure to adequately reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which was infringing on their human rights, particularly highlighting the increased frequency and intensity of heatwaves as a direct threat to their health and wellbeing. This group, comprising women over 63, argued that these climate change effects, such as heatwaves, interfere with their rights to life and health, pointing to research indicating the particular vulnerability of older women to these climate-induced conditions

“Today’s ruling against Switzerland sets a historic precedent that applies to all European countries. 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,” said Gerry Liston, senior lawyer, Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), the international not-for-profit legal team representing six Portuguese youths, who also petitioned the court over a climate crisis case, but weren’t as lucky as the Swiss seniors.

Also read: Exclusive: Hearing of climate crisis petition of six youngsters begins

Although the ECtHR deemed the case brought by Portuguese youth as inadmissible due to procedural issues, the broader implications of the rulings cannot be overstated. They compel all signatories of the ECHR to take decisive action on climate change, potentially triggering a wave of climate change litigation within domestic courts across Europe.

And a loss

The Court found that a related case brought by a group of Portuguese youth, was not ‘admissible’, as the applicants did not take their case to the Portuguese courts first, and in part, because the other 31 countries (apart from Portugal) did not have extraterritorial obligations to the applicants.

In Duarte Agostinho and Others v Portugal and others, six Portuguese youths, who witnessed their homeland’s ecological devastation firsthand, pleaded that 32 countries be held accountable for their inaction in the face of the climate crisis.

The six youths were taking the nations to task over their response to global warming and arguing that their fundamental human rights, including their right to be free from torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3) are being violated. They argued that they are being affected by climate anxiety and a deep worry about their future and quality of life. The hearings in the case began in September 2023.

“I really hoped that we would win against all the countries so obviously I’m really disappointed that this didn’t happen. 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 I really think their win is a win for us too and a win for everyone!” said Sofia Oliveira, 18, one of the applicants in the case.

Martim Duarte Agostinho, 21, another applicant in the case, said “Even though the ruling didn’t go our way and we’re disappointed, I’m proud today of what we’ve achieved because the judges recognised that climate change is an existential threat to humanity and an intergenerational challenge. We were in court with the Swiss women today, showing how powerful working together can be.”

“These cases drew on each other, and they should be understood that way. In particular, the arguments created by the Duarte Agostinho case shifted what was thought legally possible, and they created new approaches to how much states know and can be expected to do about climate change. These understandings infused the KlimaSeniorinnen case, so while Duarte Agostinho may have been declared inadmissible, the argumentative model created by this case will certainly have an enduring legacy in the Court’s further case-law on climate change,” said Corina Heri, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Zurich.