European Court of Human Rights: The Swiss Climate Ruling

European Court of Human Rights: The Swiss Climate Ruling

Tue, Apr 9th 2024

In a landmark decision, the European Court of Human Rights validates climate concerns, urging Switzerland to bolster climate defences, sparking a national debate.


The Swiss Energy Foundation SES describes the European Court of Human Rights ruling on climate seniors as a historic victory. The ruling points the way forward, wrote SES on X.

The case concers a complaint by four women and a Swiss association, Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz, whose members are all older women concerned about the consequences of global warming on their living conditions and health. They consider that the Swiss authorities are not taking sufficient action, despite their duties under the convention, to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Grand Chamber judgment

This means that it is now official that Switzerland has done too little to protect the population from the climate crisis, according to the SES.

This ruling has resonated across the political spectrum, with the Socialist Party (SP) labelling it a stark admonition to the Federal Council.

Mattea Meyer, SP’s Co-President, emphasises the need for proactive public investment to expedite Switzerland’s ecological and energy transition. “An unequivocal call to action,” she remarks.

Environmental groups, including the Climate Protection Association, view the ruling as vindication of their long-standing concerns. “It’s a confirmation of our warnings,” they state, urging more decisive climate action.

Jürg Grossen of the Green Liberal Party (GLP) sees the judgment as a reaffirmation of Switzerland’s lag in climate initiatives, despite its technological prowess. “It’s high time for self-reflection and action,” Grossen asserts, highlighting the pivotal role of upcoming legislation like the Electricity Act.

Push Back: “Completely Incomprehensible”

SVP’s Mike Egger dismisses the verdict as “absurd,” criticizing the judiciary’s foray into political realms. He argues that Switzerland’s environmental strides, notably in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption, are overlooked, attributing some challenges to “massive immigration.”

For Bernese FDP National Councillor Christian Wasserfallen, the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is “completely incomprehensible”. The court does not understand Swiss democracy, he said, referring to the revised CO2 Act, which was rejected at the ballot box in 2021.

Making the Federal Council solely responsible for this “no” vote is “a joke”, said Wasserfallen on Tuesday when asked by the Keystone-SDA news agency. And thanks to the means of direct democracy, people in Switzerland can make their concerns heard.

Wasserfallen may not attach too much importance to the ruling from Strasbourg. It looks relatively politically motivated, he said.

This case documents a legal recognition of climate change as a real and serious issue. However rulings from these courts do not guarantee changes will be made. This a European court ruling, not Swiss legislation.

The judges have clearly shown that they are of the opinion that the climate and health must be better protected. They would leave the choice of means to Switzerland. The ruling does not dictate to the federal government what it must do specifically to achieve the goals set. The measures must now be discussed in Switzerland.

Potentially, all Council of Europe states that have signed the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) could be affected. The ruling “is a precedent, one can imagine an impact on more than 40 countries”, said Mahaim. Switzerland ratified the ECHR in 1974.


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