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Climate protection becomes a human right

Apr 15, 2024 / Michael Gams, CIPRA International
A legal milestone for climate protection: on 9 April 2024, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Switzerland is violating the human rights of older women because the country is not doing what is necessary to combat global warming.
Image caption:
A reason to celebrate: senior citizens from Switzerland have successfully sued for more climate protection. (c) Shervine Nafissi / Greenpeace

There is scientific evidence that older women are more affected by heatwaves than men, for example. According to the Court’s judgement, Switzerland must improve its current climate targets and define them more effectively on the basis of scientific evidence, as it has not met its obligations with regard to climate change under the Convention on Human Rights. When it comes to climate protection, the state must fulfil its obligations to protect its citizens in accordance with the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the requirements of the UN Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement. The net-zero target must be achieved “within the next three decades”. The lawsuit filed by the “KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz” association, which represents over 2,500 women aged 64 and over, therefore has victim status. Specifically, the court found a violation of Article 8 (right to private and family life).

Switzerland must improve its climate targets

“This judgement is a milestone in the fight for a liveable climate for all. And the judgement is a source of satisfaction. We have been fighting for climate justice for nine years with the support of Greenpeace. After the Swiss courts refused to hear us, the ECtHR has now confirmed that climate protection is a human right”, says Anne Mahrer, Co-President of Climate Senior Women. On 29 March 2023, the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR in Strasbourg held a public hearing for the first time on the question of the extent to which a state such as Switzerland must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in order to protect the human rights of its population. Representatives of the Climate Seniors were heard, as well as that of a French individual claimant, whose complaint was dismissed owing to a lack of personal involvement. The ECtHR has now dismissed the climate action brought by Portuguese young people, which was also heard in autumn 2023, on the grounds that they should have first gone through all national judicial instances.

Precedent for all states in the Council of Europe

The judgement has far-reaching implications and sets a precedent for all 46 states of the Council of Europe and beyond. They can now all be called upon by their citizens to review and, if necessary, strengthen their climate policies to safeguard human rights on the basis of the principles established by the ECtHR. This is also of the utmost importance for climate policy in the Alpine region, says Kaspar Schuler, Executive Director of CIPRA International: “Global warming in the Alpine region is well above the global average, which shows that we will also be affected to an above-average extent. We congratulate the Climate Seniors on this success, which they have also achieved for all those who live on increasingly unstable mountain slopes and in valleys that are increasingly at risk of flooding or drought.” The seniors’ next destination is the International Court of Justice in The Hague, where hearings on the climate justice obligations of all governments that have submitted to it will take place early next year. Its judgement will apply to all 193 member states of the United Nations.


Sources and further information: (de, fr, it, en), (de), (de), (de), (de), (it), (it), (it), (fr, it, de, en), (sl)