Strasbourg – Today, the Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland and four individual plaintiffs make history with the first ever climate case to be heard before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg, France. The case (Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland, Application no. 53600/20) will set a precedent for all 46 states of the Council of Europe, and decide whether and to what extent a country such as Switzerland must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions more stringently to protect human rights.
The 2,038 Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland took their government to the European Court of Human Rights in 2020 because their lives and health are threatened by heat waves fueled by climate change. The ECtHR has fast-tracked their case, which will be heard in its 17-Judge Grand Chamber. The Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland are supported by Greenpeace Switzerland.
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.”
Rosmarie Wydler-Wälti, co-president of Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland, said: “The decision to hold the hearing before the court’s Grand Chamber underlines the fundamental significance of the lawsuit. The Court has recognised the urgency and importance of finding an answer to the question of whether states violate the human rights of elderly women by not taking the necessary climate protection measures.”
Cordelia Bähr, lawyer of the Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland, said: “Elderly women are extremely vulnerable to the effects of heat. There is substantial evidence to show that they are at a significant risk of death, as well as ill health as a result of heat. Accordingly, the harm and risks caused by climate change is sufficient to engage the State’s positive obligations to protect their right to life, health and well-being as guaranteed by Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
The complaint by the Swiss Senior Women for Climate Protection is one of three climate change lawsuits that are currently pending before the Grand Chamber. The two other lawsuits are:
- Carême v. France (no. 7189/21): This case – also to be heard by the Court today, 29th of March, in the afternoon – concerns a complaint by a resident and former mayor of the municipality of Grande-Synthe, who submits that France has taken insufficient steps to prevent climate change and that this failure entails a violation of the right to life (Article 2 of the Convention) and the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8 of the Convention).
- Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and Others (no. 39371/20): This case concerns the polluting greenhouse gas emissions from 32 member States which, in the view of the applicants – Portuguese nationals aged between 10 and 23 -, contribute to the phenomenon of global warming, resulting, among other things, in heatwaves affecting the applicants’ lives, living conditions, physical and mental health.
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.