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Switzerland government must protect citizens in older women’s climate lawsuit win

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A group of older Swiss women have won a climate lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights, in what experts have called a landmark ruling.
switzerland government climate lawsuit

Switzerland’s government has a responsibility to protect citizens’ well-being from the impacts of climate change, a European court has ruled in a major climate lawsuit.

The decision comes after a group of older women and climate activists from Switzerland launched legal action in the European Court of Human Rights.

The court ruled in favour of the women, in what experts say could have “significant” consequences for climate lawsuits around the world.

The case

The legal action was brought by four women from KlimaSeniorinnen (Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland). The organisation is made up of more than 2,500 women with an average age of 73.

KlimaSeniorinnen had initially tried to sue Swiss authorities over inaction to address climate change, which it argued was negatively impacting women’s health and lifestyles.

When that bid failed, the organisation escalated its case to the European Human Rights Court.

Health

The four women argued their age and gender made them more vulnerable to the impacts of global warming.

One woman said she had collapsed due to intense sun exposure, and another time had passed out in a doctor’s waiting room due to high temperatures.

Heat had also worsened some of the women’s asthma and heart issues. Most noted hotter days also meant they were forced to stay inside for longer periods.

One of the women died during the proceedings. Her son continued the case on her behalf.

Government responsibility

The group argued the Swiss government had failed to meet recent emission reduction targets, and was yet to commit to legally binding targets for the future.

Switzerland has signed on to several international pledges to reduce carbon emissions.

However, KlimaSeniorinnen said Swiss authorities aren’t taking the necessary action to meet these goals.

Ruling

All but one of the court’s 17 judges ruled the Swiss government had failed in its obligations to address climate change adequately.

As a result, the court determined Switzerland violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

It states: “Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law… Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence”.

The Swiss government must pay more than $AU131,000 in compensation to KlimaSeniorinnen.

Reaction

KlimaSeniorinnen co-president Anne Mahrer called the ruling “historic”.

Speaking outside the court, she said Switzerland should “take ambitious measures to protect our health and protect the future for all of us.”

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice, the country’s highest legal agency, said it’s considering the judgment and will “review what measures Switzerland will take in the future”.

High-profile climate activist Greta Thunberg attended the court ruling. She said: “It cannot be a political choice whether to respect human rights or not”.

“This is only the beginning of climate litigation all over the world.”

“This is only the beginning of climate litigation all over the world.”

Greta Thunberg – Climate activist

Australia

Governments around the world are facing climate lawsuits for not taking stronger action to reduce emissions in similar cases.

For example, community activist group Jubilee Australia is suing two government agencies over alleged undisclosed funding for fossil fuel projects.

Responding to the European court decision, Jubilee Australia said governments should “want to protect their citizens from climate collapse,” not wait “to be sued to act”.

Professor Susan Harris Rimmer, an international human rights and climate law expert, told TDA the case had “bigger implications for every country in the world”.

She urged governments to act quickly to combat global warming to avoid being sued.

“If a whole lot of [your citizens] are at risk of harm, you should be preventing that harm,” Rimmer said.

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