EU Court Sides with Elderly Women, Faults Switzerland in Climate Change Case

Published: 11 April 2024

KlimaSeniorinnen vor dem dem Europaischen Gerichtshof fur MenschenrechteEurope’s human rights court ruled in favor of the senior women’s group KlimaSeniorinnen, who said that Switzerland’s climate policies posed a risk to their health and right to life. (Photo: Womenforwiki (wfw), Wikimedia, License)

By Henry Pope

In a case brought forward by a group of elderly Swiss women, a European court ruled on Tuesday that the Swiss government fell short of its climate change obligations by not addressing global warming properly and therefore violating the plaintiffs’ human rights.

The European Court of Human Rights sided with the Senior Women for Climate Protection, also known as KlimaSeniorinnen. The 2,500-strong group of elderly women claimed that Switzerland’s failure to properly tackle global warming constituted a threat to the health of seniors everywhere.

The group demanded that the Swiss government maintain its stated climate policy objective to limit the rise in global temperature to no more than 1.5 °C by 2050.

“We older women are particularly affected by the effects of global warming. Climate change, with its increasing frequency and intensity of heat waves, is life-threatening to older people, especially women,” KlimaSeniorinnen explained in its reasoning behind the lawsuit. “We have a significantly increased risk of death and health problems during heat waves as compared to the population as a whole.”

This was backed up by the Strasbourg-based human rights court, which judged that the serious adverse effects of climate change negatively impact a person’s health, well-being, and quality of life.

Two similar cases that also accused Europe’s leaders of not taking progressive environmental policies seriously enough were tossed out as inadmissible the same day, however.

The first, filed by the former mayor of a French municipality, accused the federal government of taking insufficient steps to prevent climate change, which he said was “a violation of his right to life.”

The second concerned six Portuguese individuals born after 1999. Together, they claimed that the Portuguese government had failed to manage greenhouse gas emission levels set by the 2015 Paris climate accord, which heightened the risk of wildfires throughout the country.

Still, the two cases drew support from the senior women’s rights group, who said that they underlined the important and novel issues raised by climate change.

“A victory for the Swiss Senior Women and/or the individual applicants would therefore not only be an important victory for older women in Switzerland,” KlimaSeniorinnen said, “It would be a victory for all generations.”

Despite the fact that member states of the European Court of Human Rights agree to adhere to its rulings, however, there have been thousands of cases over the years where signatories have ignored the judgements handed down by its rulings.