2024April 2024International News

Grandmas Triumph Over Swiss Government in Landmark Climate Inaction Case

Andrew Travis

Staff writer

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Europe’s top human rights court ruled on Tuesday, April 9, that the Swiss government had violated the human rights of its citizens by failing to do enough to combat climate change. Reuters reports that the decision will set a precedent for future climate lawsuits in international courts. 

According to The Guardian, the European Court of Human Rights decided that Switzerland’s weak climate policy violated the rights of a group of older Swiss women to “family life.”

The Swiss women, also known as KlimaSeniorinnen, were all aged 64 and above. Reuters reports that they claimed their government’s climate inaction put them at risk of dying during heatwaves. The women argued their age and gender made them particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. 

According to The Associated Press, the court—which is unrelated to the European Union—ruled that Switzerland “had failed to comply with its duties” to combat climate change and meet the EU’s emissions targets. 

Under its climate commitments, Switzerland had vowed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels. However, according to The New York Times, the ruling said that Switzerland had reduced its emissions levels by only around 11 percent between 2013 and 2020. In addition, it said, the country had failed to use tools such as carbon budgets that could quantify its efforts to limit emissions. 

Reuters reports that the ruling indicates Switzerland has a legal duty to take more significant action to reduce emissions. The Swiss government declined to comment on the case. 

Although the decision by the Court of Human Rights is legally binding, experts told The New York Times that states are ultimately responsible for complying with the court’s ruling. The Swiss verdict, which cannot be appealed according to reporting by Al Jazeera, could compel the government to take greater action on reducing emissions. The verdict also includes revising its 2030 emissions reduction targets to align with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). 

However, it was a partial victory for environmental activists as two other cases, from Portugal and France, were declared inadmissible on procedural grounds. Al Jazeera also reported that in all three cases, lawyers argued that the political and civil protections guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights are meaningless if the planet is uninhabitable. 

According to The Associated Press, the European Court of Human Rights rejected the two similar cases on procedural grounds—a high-profile one brought by young Portuguese people and another by a French mayor who sought to force governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

The New York Times reports that the court ruled that the applicants had not exhausted all of Portugal’s legal options and that bringing a complaint against the other 32 countries would entail an “unlimited expansion” of the state’s jurisdiction. The lawsuit’s precedent comes at a time when climate cases will only become more significant and global temperatures continue to rise. On the same day as the win for the KlimaSeniorinnen, the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said that March averaged 14.14 degrees Celsius (57.9 degrees Fahrenheit), exceeding the previous record from 2016 by one-tenth of a degree. 

Image courtesy of Getty Images

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