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Government loses Swiss women's climate lawsuit: it sets a precedent

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Apr10,2024

Government loses Swiss women's climate lawsuit: it sets precedent

Decision the court has already become a precedent/freepik

On Tuesday, Europe's highest human rights court ruled that the Swiss government violated the human rights of its citizens by not doing enough to combat climate change. The decision will set a precedent for future climate lawsuits.

The European Court of Human Rights is expected to rule in favor of the more than 2,000 Swiss women who filed the lawsuit,will resonate in court decisions across Europe and beyond, and inspire more communities to file climate lawsuits against governments, Reuters writes.

However, in a sign of the complexity of the growing wave of climate litigation,

strong> the court (ECtHR) dismissed two other climate-related cases on procedural grounds. One was filed by a group of six Portuguese youths against 32 European governments, and the other by a former mayor of a low-lying French coastal town.

Swiss women, known as KlimaSeniorinnen, aged over 64, said their government's climate inaction puts them at risk of dying in the heat. They argued that their age and gender made them particularly vulnerable to such consequences of climate change.

In her decision, the head of the court, Siofra O'Leary, stated that the Swiss government had not met its own targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and had not established a national carbon budget.


It is clear that future generations are likely to bear an increasingly heavy burden of the consequences of current failures and omissions in the fight against climate change,
O'Leary said.

Women in Switzerland win a lawsuit against the country's government: watch the video

One of the leaders of KlimaSeniorinnen, Rosemary Vidler-Walti, said that she is trying to understand the depth of this decision.

We are constantly we ask our lawyers: “Is it true?”. And they tell us: “This is the most you could get. The biggest possible victory,” she says.

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice, which represented the Swiss government in court, took note of the court's decision.

“Together with the authorities concerned, we will analyze this extensive decision and consider what measures Switzerland will take in the future,” – the agency said in a statement.

The cases being heard by a panel of 17 judges in Strasbourg, France, are among a growing number of climate lawsuits brought by citizens against governments based on human rights law .

The verdict in the Swiss case, which cannot be appealed, will have an international resonance, immediately creating a binding legal precedent for all 46 countries that have signed the European Convention on Human Rights.

He points out that Switzerland has a legal obligation to take more active measures to reduce emissions.

If Switzerland doesn't update its policy, further lawsuits could be launched at the national level and courts could impose financial penalties, said Lucy Maxwell, co-director of the nonprofit Climate Litigation Network.

Switzerland has taken the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. Bern proposed tougher measures to achieve this goal, but voters rejected them in a referendum in 2021 as too burdensome.

The verdict could also affect future decisions by the Strasbourg court, which suspended six other climate cases pending decisions on Tuesday.

They include a lawsuit against the Norwegian government, which claims it violated human rights by issuing new licenses for oil and gas exploration in Barents Sea after 2035.

“(It) sets an important legally binding precedent that serves as a model for how to successfully sue one's own government over climate failures,” said Ruth Delbarre, director of legal campaigns for the global civil rights movement Avaaz, commenting on the outcome of the Swiss case.

Courts in Australia, Brazil, Peru and South Korea are hearing climate cases based on human rights. Last month, India's Supreme Court ruled that citizens have the right to be free from the negative effects of climate change.

In a case brought by Portuguese youths, the court ruled that although emissions of greenhouse gases in a country may have a negative impact on people living outside its borders, this does not justify pursuing the case in multiple jurisdictions.

She also noted that the young people had not exhausted their legal options in Portugal's national courts before , how to apply to the ECtHR.

“I really hoped that we would win the case against all the countries,” said Sofia Oliveira, one of the Portuguese teenagers, in her statement.

At the same time, most importantly, she said, in the case of the Swiss women, the Court ruled that governments must do more to reduce emissions to protect human rights.

Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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