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Swiss 'Senior Women' Take Government to Court over Climate Change

Failure to Reduce Emissions Threatens Human Rights

A group from the Senior Women for Climate Protection association hold banners outside the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France March 29, 2023. © 2023 Emma Farge/Reuters

On March 29, in a landmark legal hearing, older women from Switzerland argued before the European Court of Human Rights that their government’s failure to sufficiently reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions has violated their human rights. The applicants, all women over 63, say that heat waves, which have become more frequent and intense as result of climate change, interfere with their rights to life and health. Research shows that heat waves – fueled by climate change – are harming at-risk populations, including older women, in Switzerland.

The KlimaSeniorinnen (Senior Women for Climate Protection) say that the Swiss government bears responsibility for this harm because of its contribution to global climate change and weak domestic policies aimed at reducing emissions.

The European Court of Human Rights has never decided a case related to the climate crisis, meaning the ruling could set an important legal precedent.

During the hearing the judges asked a raft of difficult and important questions: What standards should the Court apply when assessing the adequacy of the governments’ climate policies under human rights law? How should the Court interpret the Convention  to protect the rights of those at risk of climate change? What measures do governments need to take to prevent the climate crisis from getting worse?

This case could play an important role in  holding governments to account for their inaction on climate change. And it is not the only climate case to go before the court. Yesterday, the Court also heard a case brought against the French government, while a child-led climate case against several European governments will have a hearing later in the year. Together, these cases put government commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under scrutiny and challenge European governments to show that their climate policies protect human rights.

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