What’s going on here?

A group of women in Switzerland are celebrating after winning a landmark case in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). They argue that by failing to address climate change, their government is putting them at risk of premature death in a heatwave. In a historic decision last week, the Court agreed with them.

What does this mean?

The case was brought by a group of Swiss women mostly in their 70s, known as the KlimaSeniorinnen or Senior Women for Climate Protection. Their case argued that they are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of extreme heat. Many of them remember clearly the heatwave in 2003 which killed 70,000 people across Europe.

The Court ruled that Switzerland had “failed to comply with its duties under the [Geneva] Convention concerning climate change” and left “critical gaps” in its climate policy. The decision means that the Court believes the Swiss government has violated the women’s human rights. Specifically, the right to respect for private and family life.

Why should we care?

This is the first time the ECHR has ruled on a climate-related issue. That means it sets a legal precedent – an example for other similar cases to follow. This ruling could have an impact beyond Europe, opening the door globally for other citizens and organisations to sue governments.

For example, the UK has legally binding targets to cut emissions. If it fails to do so, it could be taken to court for violating the British people’s human rights. Many experts hope that this will help to hold governments to account, strengthening climate action.

Following the ruling, politicians around the world have spoken out. Many have welcomed the decision but some are cautious about the power of the courts to influence climate policy.

We’ll give the final word to Mary Robinson, who was the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. In an interview with AP, she praised the ruling, saying: “If countries do not protect their people, then they may be undermining human rights. That’s completely climate justice.”

Be curious!

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