Swiss grandmothers win dispute with government: Switzerland condemned for lack of action

The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Switzerland for not taking adequate measures against advancing climate change. This is a historic decision, as the Strasbourg judges for the first time combine the protection of human rights with compliance with climate commitments. She filed an appeal Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz, an association of elderly Swiss women concerned about the consequences of climate change on their health. In fact, this is not the only climate dispute that has reached the European Court of Human Rights. Today, Strasbourg judges gave their verdict in two other very similar cases: one promoted by a former French mayor and the other by a group of young Portuguese. In the last two cases, the appeals were declared inadmissible.

Condemnation of Switzerland

In an appeal submitted to the ECtHR, the Swiss association Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland asked the court to oblige Switzerland to intervene to protect their human rights and to adopt the legislative measures necessary to prevent an increase in the average global temperature of more than 1 0.5 °C. with the application of specific targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The decision issued today by the ECtHR recognizes that «Article 8 of the Convention (European Committee for Human Rights – ed.) establishes the right to the effective protection of state authorities against the serious adverse effects of climate change on life, health, well-being and quality of life”. The appeal was therefore upheld, but only in part. In fact, the judges found that the four appellants “do not meet the criteria for victim status” but still have the right to appeal “on behalf of those individuals who may claim to be exposed to specific threats or negative effects of climate change”.

The disappointment of a young Portuguese

Today, the ECtHR was also called upon to give its opinion on the case «Duarte Agostinho and others v. Portugal and 32 other states», a lawsuit brought by a group of young Portuguese against 32 member states of the European Union (including Italy), accused of not doing enough for reduction of emissions. Their appeal was declared inadmissible by the Strasbourg judges, who said the applicants should have turned to the Portuguese courts before appealing to the ECtHR. The same fate met the third and last climate dispute, which ended up on the table of the European Court of Human Rights. In this case, the appellant was Damien Carême, the former mayor of Grande-Synthe, who sued France for not acting with sufficient conviction and effectiveness to limit the effects of climate change. However, the Strasbourg court noted that Carême no longer lives in France and therefore cannot claim to be a victim of the French government’s inaction.

Greta Thunberg:

“It’s just the beginning”

The elderly Swiss women’s victory was hailed as a historic result by environmental associations, with WWF Italy speaking of a “new phase” of climate disputes against governments and companies. “It is to be hoped – the association writes in a note – that the orientation of the ECtHR can give Italy a new stimulus to adapt plans and measures as soon as possible to the reasons of ecological transformation”. Greta Thunberg, the activist who gave life to the Fridays for Future movement, is also happy. “This is just the beginning of climate disputes: more and more people around the world are taking their governments to court to hold them accountable for their actions,” said a Swedish activist outside the ECHR in Strasbourg. The European Commission is also reacting to the decision, which “takes note” of the judges’ decision and says it is “fully committed to ensuring the full implementation of the Green Deal and the commitments made under the Paris Agreement”.


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