The Memo: Swiss women achieve landmark win in human rights climate dispute

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Swiss women achieve landmark win in human rights climate dispute

Erin Bradbury - 15 April 2024

Just this month, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favour of more than 2,000 Swiss women over the age of 64 who claimed that the country’s weak climate change policies meant they were unable to leave their homes during heatwaves and were at a greater risk of deathTo help reinforce the uniqueness of this case, it’s worth noting that around 90% of all applications to the ECHR are rejected for being inadmissible. What’s more, while two other climate cases were fast tracked at the same time, six climate cases were delayed so that this landmark ruling could be passed. The KlimaSeniorinnen, the 2,400-strong group of claimants, argued that their rights were being violated as older women are less likely to survive hotter temperatures. They also claimed that Switzerland should act to stop global heating in alignment with the Paris agreement target of 1.5°C.

Subsequently, the court found that Switzerland has failed to comply with its targets for cutting greenhouse emissions and setting its own national carbon budget, and that keeping global heating to 1.5°C was part of the country’s duty to protect human rights. Moreover, it was ruled that the claimants had not been provided appropriate access to justice in their home countryIn her ruling, the Court President Siofra O’Leary stated, “it is clear that future generations are likely to bear an increasingly severe burden of the consequences of present failures and omissions to combat climate change.”

Some governments have shared their criticism following the decision, claiming that such cases shouldn’t be admitted by international bodies and should instead remain the focus of individual governments. However, the ruling is expected to have an impact across Europe, especially considering that it cannot be appealed. That being said, countries outside of Europe (such as South Korea, Peru, Brazil and Australia)are also considering human rights-based climate cases. In fact, earlier this year, India’s supreme court determined that citizens have the right to be free from the adverse impacts of climate change. So, this will certainly be a space to watch, and perhaps we can expect the number of climate litigations to rise as the global temperature increases...