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Switzerland violated human rights, European court finds, in landmark climate case brought by 2,000 women

Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Anne Mahrer and Rosmarie Wyder-Walti, from the group Senior Women for Climate Protection, after their victory at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, April 9, 2024.


A French international court ruled on Tuesday that Switzerland’s failure to adequately combat the climate crisis constituted a violation of human rights, in a historic climate judgment that could have a ripple effect across the world .

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France, has handed down its judgment in a case brought by more than 2,000 Swiss women, the majority of whom are aged 70, against the Swiss government. They argued that heat waves caused by climate change were harming their health and quality of life and putting them at risk of death.

The court ruled that the Swiss government had violated some of the women’s human rights due to “critical gaps” in its domestic legislation aimed at reducing the planet’s heat emissions, as well as its failure to meet past climate targets.

This was equivalent to a violation of women’s rights to effective protection against “the serious negative effects of climate change on life, health, well-being and quality of life”, the court said in a statement.

This is the first time that the court has ruled on a climate dispute. There is no right of appeal and the judgment is legally binding.

Experts say the court’s decision This could strengthen other human rights-based climate cases pending before international courts and could open the door to many similar lawsuits being launched in the future.

“Today’s rulings against Switzerland set a historic precedent that applies to all European countries,” Gerry Liston, a lawyer with the Global Legal Action Network, which supported Portugal’s case, said in a statement. “This means that all European countries must urgently revise their targets so that they are science-based and aligned with 1.5 degrees. This is a huge victory for all generations.

This decision could also force Switzerland to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels more quickly. Fossil fuels are the main driver of human-caused climate change.

Vesselina Newman, of the environmental lawyers’ organization ClientEarth, said the outcome “from one of the world’s highest courts sends a clear message that governments must take concrete action on emissions to protect the human rights of their citizens.

The court also handed down judgments on two other complaints, one filed by a municipal mayor against the French government and the third, the largest and most publicized, filed by six young Portuguese people against 32 European countries. These two allegations were deemed “inadmissible”.

Jean-François Badias/AP

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, second from left, joins Portuguese youth during a protest outside the European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday in Strasbourg, France.

The French application was rejected because the applicant had since left the country and no longer had ties to the region his case focused on and was therefore not considered a “victim” for the purposes of the trial.

The court dismissed the Portuguese case on the grounds that the claimants had not exhausted all legal avenues in their national court. system first. He also ruled that there was no reason to extend the claim to countries other than Portugal.

Catarina dos Santos Mota, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said that although the ruling was not favorable, the ruling was nonetheless a victory. “We didn’t break the wall but we made a huge crack,” she said. “I want the victory against Switzerland to be used against all European countries and in national courts.”

As the climate crisis worsens, climate litigation is becoming an increasingly popular tool to try to force governments and businesses to step up their climate action, especially as the world remains largely on track in in terms of reducing emissions quickly enough to avoid catastrophic warming.

Tuesday’s ruling in favor of the Swiss sets “a precedent that other international courts must follow,” Liston told CNN.

The International Court of Justice and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights both have ongoing cases regarding the impacts of climate change on human rights.

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With a penchant for words, jack began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class.After interning at the New York Times, jack landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim.Though writing is his passion, jack also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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