Landmark ECHR ruling will hold Switzerland accountable for ineffective climate action

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A European Court of Human Rights ruling has displayed that there may be a responsibility for states to shield their citizens against climate change - but time will only tell how effective this ruling can be.

In a landmark ruling, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has judged that Switzerland can be held accountable for the harm caused by a lack of robust climate change policy. The Swiss group ‘KlimaSeniorinnen’, comprising of 2,500 women with an average age of 73, started the case in 2016, and brought their case to the ECHR. Finally, on April 9th, the ECHR ruled that Switzerland did not protect the group from global warming, which had negatively affected the health and rights of the members. 

Supported by Greenpeace, KlimaSeniorinnen argued that Switzerland's climate policies did not follow the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting the increase of global warming to 1.5°C, and failed to protect them against the detrimental effects of global warming. The group claimed that heat waves and other effects of global warming negatively affected them due to their age, such as an increased risk of health issues like heart attacks. They stated the effects also forced group members to be confined in their houses, thus violating their rights. 

After being defeated in Swiss federal court, KlimaSeniorinned’s case was supported by sixteen of the seventeen ECHR judges, strong-arming Switzerland into changing their climate policy and also pay €80,000 to the group. This ruling may have implications for the responsibilities and climate policy of forty-five countries that are part of the European Convention of Human Rights and for six ongoing climate cases in the ECHR against countries like Germany and Norway. 

However, it is also likely that the policy changes resulting from the ruling will not be implicated anytime soon, and the ruling may turn out to be more symbolic than effective. In the meantime, however, climate activists consider this a win for their cause as they continue to fight against the ever-worsening climate crisis.