European court reprimands Switzerland for climate inaction

European court reprimands Switzerland for climate inaction

In a landmark ruling, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that Switzerland had violated human rights conventions with its climate policy. The lawsuit in question was brought forward by a collection of elderly activists and Greenpeace, who both argued that the Swiss government was not doing enough to protect senior citizens from climate change.

Elderly climate activists take Switzerland to court

In a statement issued on April 9, the ECHR ruled that Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz, a group of elderly climate activists, were right to file their lawsuit against Switzerland. In the case, the group argued that the Swiss government was violating European human rights law on health, life and protection by not doing enough to act against climate change, nor protect senior residents from its effects.

Backed by Greenpeace, the association launched its complaint against the government in 2016. The case was then rejected by federal authorities, the Federal Administrative Court and the Federal Supreme Court in Lausanne on the grounds that the elderly were not uniquely affected by climate change. The case was then escalated to the ECHR in 2020.

Climate inaction does violate human rights, ECHR rules

Now, in its first-ever ruling on a climate issue, the ECHR found Switzerland had violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights: the "right to respect for your private life, your family life, your home and your correspondence." The court “considers that the Swiss authorities are not taking sufficient action to mitigate the effects of climate change. The court found that the convention encompasses a "right to effective protection" by the state authorities from the serious adverse effects of climate change on lives, health, wellbeing and quality of life.” 

The court also said that Switzerland had failed to respect its own climate goals and that by rejecting the case, it had failed to give activists the right to a fair trial. However, the ECHR rejected the association’s claim that government inaction on climate change constituted a violation of Article 2: the right to life.

Climate change case may return to Swiss courts

Speaking to reporters, the Verein KlimaSeniorinnen co-president said she “can hardly breathe anymore, we didn’t expect such a good result,” adding that she was touched by the court's recognition that senior women specifically are potential victims of climate change. Association lawyer and spokesperson Cordelia Bähr said that the ruling was “the best verdict we could have expected… The verdict handed down today corresponds to my most optimistic estimate.”

Thanks to the ECHR ruling, the case may now be sent back to courts in Switzerland. When asked about the next steps, Bähr said that they “have to discuss this first and analyse the verdict calmly.” For the government's part, a spokesperson for the Federal Office of Justice told 20 Minuten that the ruling was "final and must be implemented... we will now analyse the extensive judgement and examine what measures Switzerland needs to take in the future."

Thumb image credit: Timeckert /

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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