Swiss Government Violates Human Rights Over Climate Change, Court Rules

Apr 10, 2024

Europe’s human rights court has ruled in favor of a group of more than 2,000 women. They sued the Swiss government. They alleged it has not done enough to protect them from the adverse effects of climate change. The ruling could expand a new battleground — the courthouse. Citizens in Europe and beyond could use it to press governments to address global warming.   

The Swiss women are over age 64. They said their country’s rulers are putting them at a health risk. They said it's because heat waves are getting more severe as the planet warms under climate change. The Tuesday ruling stopped short of handing Switzerland any penalties. But it set a legal precedent in 46 European member states. And it likely opens the door for more such lawsuits, legal experts said.  

“This is a turning point,” Corina Heri told The Associated Press. Heri's an expert in climate change law. She's at the University of Zurich.  

Yet, the human rights court dismissed two other similar climate change cases for procedural reasons. One involved six Portuguese young people. They sued 32 European governments. They claimed the bodies failed to protect them from climate change’s effects. The other lawsuit was brought by a French mayor. The mayor asked that governments reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Siofra O'Leary is the court's president. She wrote in the Swiss-women’s ruling that Switzerland’s government failed to meet its own mandated greenhouse gas emissions standards. She also said leaders did not create a budget for carbon emissions.  

It is clear that people in the future are likely to bear an increased burden of the present failures and neglect to combat climate change, O'Leary wrote.

Reflect: If you were a judge in an international court, what penalty, if any, would you impose on a country found guilty of contributing to climate change? 

Photo of KlimaSeniorinnen from Reuters.

Based on the information in the article, what did the Swiss government fail to do? (Common Core RI.5.1; RI.6.1)
a. pay its citizens for damage caused by climate change
b. follow its own regulations about greenhouse gas emissions
c. defend itself at the human rights court
d. follow the correct procedures in the human rights court
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