Swiss Seniors for Climate Justice

The association of Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland has won a historic victory at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The association, comprised of a group of Swiss senior citizens, sued the government of Switzerland over climate change. The group members successfully argued that the country “violated their basic human rights by not doing enough to respond to climate change,” as reported previously in The Good Times.

After two Swiss courts dismissed the lawsuit, in 2020 the association took it to the ECHR, which decided in March 2021 to hear the legal action. The result: on April 9, 2024, the Grand Chamber of the Court ruled in the case of Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland that “Switzerland is violating the human rights of the older women because the state is not taking the necessary steps to combat global warming. Specifically, the court found a violation of Article 8 [of the European Convention on Human Rights] (right to private and family life). The Court also found that the action brought by the association, which currently represents over 2,500 women aged 64 and over, also has victim status.”

As the press release announcing the victory states: “This is a huge victory not only for all the older women, but for access to justice across Europe.  …  Switzerland must now adjust its current climate targets based on science. The Court found that Switzerland had failed to comply with its duties under the Convention concerning climate change. The Swiss authorities had not acted in time and in an appropriate way to implement measures to mitigate the effects of climate change in this case. Furthermore, Switzerland has not achieved its own inadequate targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“For the first time, a transnational court specialising in human rights is directly upholding a human rights-based right to climate protection.”

Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland

KlimaSeniorinnen climate demonstration, 2019 (photo by Hadi, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The ECHR highlighted significant omissions in the Swiss government’s procedure to establish an adequate national regulatory framework to fight climate change. Switzerland had failed to quantify greenhouse gas emission limits across the economy and to meet its own emission reduction targets in the past. What’s more, the Swiss courts had violated the right of the association of Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland to access a court: “The Swiss authorities and courts should have carried out a substantive examination of the human rights violations alleged by the senior citizens.”

The result of this ruling is that “Switzerland must therefore subject its current climate targets to improvements in order to sufficiently protect human rights.” The country can be held accountable for inadequate climate policies and mitigation measures. Its requirements now are to show evidence of:

  • Measures that indicate a specific target timeline to achieve net zero and carbon budget, or equivalent methods;
  • Intermediate greenhouse gas emission targets and pathways;
  • Compliance to greenhouse gas reduction targets;
  • Updates to greenhouse gas reduction targets with due diligence and best available evidence;
  • Execution in good time in an appropriate and consistent manner when devising and implementing climate change legislation and measures.

This ruling is a landmark in the struggle for a liveable climate for everyone. And the ruling is a 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 ECHR has now confirmed that climate protection is a human right.” – Anne Mahrer,  Co-President of the Swiss Senior Women for Climate Protection



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