Switzerland Sued Over Climate Inaction: 'This Is Huge'

2K older women had brought case over effects of heat waves to EU's high court for human rights
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 9, 2024 9:03 AM CDT
EU's High Court for Human Rights Faults Switzerland on Climate
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, second from left, joins youths from Portugal during a demonstration outside the European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday in Strasbourg, France.   (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

The European Court of Human Rights is holding an entire nation accountable for its tepid action against climate change, issuing a "landmark ruling" on Tuesday that Switzerland's lack of appropriate action violates its citizens' human rights, per the New York Times. "This is huge," University of Stirling environmental law professor Annalisa Savaresi tells the paper, noting that the decision could inspire others to bring their own similar cases before national courts. The AP notes it appears to be the first time an international court has ruled on climate change, and therefore the first ruling putting nations on the hot seat to protect their citizens from climate change's effects. The verdict can't be appealed, per Reuters.

  • The plaintiffs: The case before a 17-member panel in Strasbourg, France, was brought by more than 2,000 elderly Swiss women who said their government's failure to mitigate climate change put them more at risk of dying during heat waves brought on by global warming, as older women are more susceptible to heat's effects.

  • Switzerland's argument: The country had claimed in court that political processes should address climate change, not human rights laws. Europe's highest court for human rights obviously disagreed.
  • Penalty: Switzerland was ordered by the ECHR to fork over about $87,000 to the group that filed the lawsuit.
  • Losses: The court rejected as inadmissible two other related cases brought before it. They were filed by the former mayor of a French coastal town and a group of Portuguese youth. Those plaintiffs were still pleased with the ruling against Switzerland. "The most important thing is that the court has said ... that governments must cut their emissions more to protect human rights. So, their win is a win for us, too, and a win for everyone!" one 19-year-old plaintiff from Portugal tells the AP.
  • Ramifications: Reuters notes this case could have a "ripple effect across Europe and beyond, setting a precedent for how some courts deal with the rising tide of climate litigation argued on the basis of human rights infringements."
  • Greta Thunberg: The 21-year-old Swedish climate activist was in the courtroom for the Tuesday decision. "These rulings are a call to action," she tells the AP. "They underscore the importance of taking our national governments to court."
(More Switzerland stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.