Swiss women won a landmark climate case

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On Tuesday, a group of 2,000 Swiss women won a significant ruling on holding governments accountable for addressing climate change.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that Switzerland failed to implement sufficient climate policies — violating the women’s human rights.
The case could influence other European countries, as well as other international bodies, in their decisions about the legal ramifications of inadequate climate policies.
KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz, a group of women climate activists all over the age of 64, initially brought the case against Switzerland in November 2016.
Establishing a precedent in the ECHR means that it could apply to the 45 other countries that are party to the European Convention on Human Rights.
The women’s strategy relied partly on their medical vulnerability as senior citizens to excessive heat caused by climate change.
The group, supported by Greenpeace, spent nearly eight years litigating its case in Swiss courts before going to the ECHR.
“The decision affirms that European Human Rights law … requires governments to pursue a high level of climate ambition,” Burger said.


A major ruling on holding governments accountable for addressing climate change was won on Tuesday by a group of 2,000 Swiss women.

According to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Switzerland violated the human rights of women by not enacting adequate climate policies.

The case may affect the way other European nations and international organizations decide how to handle the legal fallout from ineffective climate policies.

In November 2016, a group of female climate activists, all over 64, called KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz filed the first lawsuit against Switzerland. Following eight years of legal proceedings, the decision on Tuesday creates a means by which European individuals and civil society organizations can effectively petition their nations for improved climate policies.

It’s significant because the Court, which has its headquarters in Strasbourg, France, is currently handling a number of climate change cases. One such case involves the Norwegian government and claims that permits for oil and gas exploration violate citizens’ human rights. If a precedent is set in the European Convention on Human Rights, it may be applicable to the other forty-five nations that have ratified the treaty.

A representative of KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz named Rosmarie Wydler-Wälti told Reuters, “We keep asking our lawyers, ‘Is that right?'”. It’s the best you could have gotten, they inform us. the greatest possible triumph. “.”.

In what way did KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz triumph?

The women’s plan drew in part from their medical susceptibility to the extreme heat brought on by climate change as elderly adults. The elderly female population in Switzerland, particularly those over 75, is more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses such as “dehydration, hyperthermia, fatigue, loss of consciousness, heat cramps, and heat strokes,” according to reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, among other organizations. Furthermore, in Switzerland, they are also most susceptible to health issues being made worse by extreme heat, such as respiratory, cardiovascular, and renal issues.

The group stated on its website that “we are aware that small children, older men, and those with illnesses also suffer from heat waves and other climate effects.”. In the end, everyone will benefit from our lawsuit’s increased chances of success because it centers on our demonstrated unique susceptibility as older women. Even though the women’s lawsuit only has an impact on Swiss law, its success may encourage the creation of comparable systems to hold developing nations accountable throughout the Global South, particularly in Latin America.

Before taking its case to the ECHR, the group, with support from Greenpeace, battled its case in Swiss courts for almost eight years. A policy fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment named Catherine Higham told Vox in an interview that “there is a principle [in international law] called the exhaustion of domestic remedies, which is that you’re supposed to have gone through the domestic system first.”. The Court discovered that ., which is why it determined it was competent to render a decision there. The legal system in Switzerland was unable to provide a remedy for the infringements on convention rights that it recognized. “.

This contrasts with another climate case that the Court dismissed on Tuesday, wherein six young Portuguese individuals bypassed the Portuguese legal system and directly approached the ECHR. The children attempted to sue 32 other countries in addition to Portugal since they had experienced severe heat waves and wildfires in their own country.

Higham remarked, “It’s a convincing argument.”. Furthermore, because climate change is essentially transboundary in nature, the UN Committee on Climate Change, another international human rights body, has stated that states may be obligated to act extraterritorially in certain cases. However, the ECHR concluded that the statute was applied too liberally.

What is going to happen next?

As per Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, Switzerland will now have to update its climate change policies, but the ECHR cannot dictate to the Swiss government what policies it has to implement.

It simply states that you must be more consistent with what the climate science says while showing respect for the democratic processes and policy decisions of the Swiss government. It doesn’t offer any specific directives or instructions. “.

An amendment to the CO2 Act was introduced by Switzerland in an attempt to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, with the goal of halving them from 1990 levels by 2030. However, in 2021, a referendum intended to approve that amendment was unsuccessful. In an attempt to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, voters subsequently approved a measure to shift away from imported gas and oil and toward green energy opportunities.

According to the ruling, European Human Rights law does not. demands that governments pursue ambitious climate goals, according to Burger. According to Burger and Higham, Switzerland is expected to take the court’s ruling seriously, and it may lead to more domestic cases in nations that are parties to the convention.

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