European Court of Human Rights condemns Switzerland for flawed climate policy

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemned Switzerland for its flawed climate policy on Tuesday, ruling it violates the human rights of a group of Swiss senior citizens. This is the first time the ECHR has condemned a country based on climate policy, and the ruling could set a precedent for future cases.

The Swiss senior citizens' movement 'KlimaSeniorinnen' went to the European Court of Human Rights because it believed that the Swiss government's flawed climate policy violated several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, mainly the article guaranteeing the right to life.

The ECHR has now vindicated the seniors. According to the court, the right to life harbours the right to "effective protection by the State against the serious effects of climate change on life, health, well-being and quality of life". The court stated that Switzerland had failed to meet its climate targets in the past and found that the Swiss authorities did not intervene in a timely and appropriate manner to adopt the necessary legislation.

The ECHR also found that Article 6, the right to a fair trial, had been violated because the Swiss courts had given "no convincing reasons" for not hearing the case. In doing so, they "failed to take into account the compelling scientific evidence on climate change".

Legally binding, no appeals

Judgments of the ECHR are legally binding, which means that Switzerland is obliged to follow them up. It is not possible to appeal. The ruling could also set a precedent for further climate justice cases, both before the ECHR and in numerous national courts.

Two other climate change cases, brought respectively by a former French mayor against his country and six Portuguese youths against 33 countries, including Belgium, were declared inadmissible by the court.

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The audience room of the European Court for Human Rights, in Strasbourg. © AFP PHOTO / PATRICK HERTZOG

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