On April 9, 2024, in the case of Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held that Switzerland failed to adequately mitigate the effects of climate change on its senior citizens under the European Convention on Human Rights.  In particular, it found that Switzerland had breached the rights of its senior citizens to be protected from the serious adverse effects of climate change on their lives, health, well-being and quality of life by not taking sufficient action to address climate change.  The full 260-page decision can be found here.  A seven-page summary issued by the ECHR is  available here.

The decision is groundbreaking in that it links insufficient climate action to human rights violations.  It is a powerful legal precedent to require countries to live up to their climate obligations.  A sample of legal commentaries about the decision can be seen here

The Court found that Switzerland breached the rights of the applicants, four women and an association of 2,400 older Swiss women, under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights which requires States to protect citizens from the serious adverse effects of climate change on lives, health, well-being and quality of life.  In particular, the applicants complained of health problems exacerbated during heatwaves.

The association’s members are concerned about the direct consequences of global warming on their living conditions and health and claimed that Swiss authorities are not doing enough to mitigate the climate crisis and its negative impacts.

The Court found that the Swiss Confederation had failed to quantify greenhouse gas emissions limitations and failed to meet emission reduction targets.  It held that while States have discretion as to how they implement the reduction targets, in this case the Swiss authorities had not acted in time or appropriately to develop measures to address the reductions required.  In this regard, the Court accepted the obligations in place for member States under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

The Court noted that States must implement effective regulations and measures aimed at preventing an increase in greenhouse gas concentrations in the earth’s atmosphere and a rise in global temperature beyond levels capable of producing serious and irreversible adverse effects on human rights as contemplated by Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Switzerland is a member of the Council of Europe and as such is bound by rulings of the ECHR.  While non-compliance is possible, Switzerland is legally obligated to comply with the ruling.  Should Swiss authorities not act to implement the decision, legal action may be taken through the Federal Council of the European Court.

Implementation of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights sometimes lags, but refusing to implement such decisions is unusual and rare. Initially, the Swiss government acknowledged the ECHR decision as final and said it would review it, but on June 12, 2024, the Swiss Parliament decided to challenge it.  This move is discussed further here and here

The Swiss government now has until October to report to the Council of Europe as to how it will implement the decision. 

 

Priscilla Platt is a retired lawyer and member of SCAN!’s Legal Group.