Grandmothers for climate action

It’s an extraordinary move that challenges the typical stereotype of Swiss people as being fairly reserved, rather introverted and very uncomfortable with disturbance and controversy: a group of Swiss senior citizens, all women who are 65 years of age or older, are suing the government of Switzerland over climate change. They are making a lot of waves. Their argument is that their country has “violated their basic human rights by not doing enough to respond to climate change.”

Forty women formed an association called Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland (theKlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz”) in 2016 and filed the lawsuit that year. Since then, two Swiss courts have dismissed the suit. So in 2020, the association, now 2,038 members strong, took the Swiss government to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). At the end of March 2021, the ECHR decided to take up the case. It was “the first time that governments have been taken to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over alleged failings to protect against climate change.”

The lawsuit before the ECHR cites research showing that older people are less able to regulate their body temperatures and are more likely to die in heat waves.

On March 29, 2023, as the European court decided to act on the case, a crowd of women gathered outside the courthouse in Strasbourg, France, waving flowers, blowing bubbles, and ringing cowbells. Anne Mahrer, co-president of Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland, said: “We have filed a lawsuit because Switzerland is doing far too little to contain the climate catastrophe. Rising temperatures are already having serious impacts on our physical and mental health. The big spike in heat waves is making us older women sick.”

This video shows how Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland are making history:

Two other lawsuits have now been filed and will also be heard by the ECHR. One is by the former mayor of Grande-Synthe, a city in Hauts-De-France, France, who has argued that “France has taken insufficient steps to prevent climate change and this failure entails a violation of the right to life (a right guaranteed by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights) and the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8 of the Convention).” The other is by a group of young Portuguese nationals, in a case regarding polluting greenhouse gas emissions from 32 Member States that “contribute to the phenomenon of global warming, resulting, among other things, in heatwaves affecting the applicants’ lives, living conditions, physical and mental health.”

A Greenpeace press release states that, “Based on the three climate change cases, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights is expected to define whether, and to what extent, States violate human rights by failing to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis. This will have far-reaching consequences. A leading judgement is expected, which will set a binding precedent for all Council of Europe Member States. It is expected at the end of 2023 at the earliest.”

“The case of the KlimaSeniorinnen is unprecedented and has the ability to literally change our world! These women came a long way and are now at one of the highest international courts.” – Gianna Martini, Climate Justice & Liability global campaign, Greenpeace International

Greenpeace Switzerland supports Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland and guarantees the costs of the proceedings so that no financial risks arise for the association or its members. Meanwhile, the “grandmothers,” meaning “all older women who care about others,” are “still looking for additional senior female plaintiffs to join the suit (ages 64 and older living in Switzerland – because women over 75 are especially at risk).”

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Featured image: Climate action outside the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, March 29, 2023 (Photo © Shervine Nafissi)

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