ECHR: Switzerland’s greenhouse gas emissions broke human rights law

  • A group of 2,000 women have won a landmark case at the ECHR 
  • The women claimed their age and gender increased heatwave vulnerability
  • The ruling regarding climate change will push governments to review own policies

A group of 2,000 women have won a potentially landmark case at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against the Swiss government for not protecting their health and quality of life against the effects of climate change.

In its legally binding ruling, which could have implications for the UK, the ECHR said the Swiss government had broken Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights by not reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions fast enough. 

It is the first time in history that Europe’s top court has ruled on global warming, and there is currently no right of appeal. 

The ECHR stated that people had a right to “effective protection by the State authorities” from the “serious adverse effects of climate change on lives, health, wellbeing and quality of life, and that the Swiss government had “failed to comply with its duties” to cut carbon emissions

The women, mostly in their 70s and part of the Senior Women for Climate Protection group, claimed their age and gender meant they were especially vulnerable to the effects of heatwaves caused by climate change. They also said they were at risk of health attacks and could not leave their homes.

The ECHR added that there had been “critical gaps in the process of putting in place the relevant framework” to prevent climate change. 

This includes “a failure by the Swiss authorities to quantify, through a carbon budget or otherwise, national GHG emissions limitations” and that Switzerland had “failed to meet its past GHG emissions reduction targets.”

The ruling could have significant effects across Europe, with other governments being forced to accelerate and/or revise their own GHG emissions policies. 

Gerry Liston, a lawyer at Global Legal Action Network, told CNN the ECHR’s ruling sets “a historic precedent that applies to all European countries” who may now have to ensure their targets are “science-based and aligned to 1.5 degrees.”

Other experts have suggested that the ruling could mean governments will look to phase out fossil fuels more quickly than they currently are, starting with Switzerland. 

Swiss president, Viola Amherd told the BBC that sustainability is “very important” to Switzerland, but added that she needed to read the judgement in full before deciding next steps. 

Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice said the judgement will be “analysed” and future GHG emission reductions measures “examined”.

The UK, as a signatory to the ECHR, and one of its founder members, could also have to examine the effectiveness of its GHG emissions policies. If that is the case, the ruling adds another layer to the public debate around the UK’s involvement with the ECHR. 

Two other cases, one brought by a French municipal mayor against the French government and six young people against 32 countries, were thrown out.



Written by:
Max joined The Eco Experts as content manager in February 2024. He has written about sustainability issues across numerous industries, including maritime, supply chain, finance, mining and retail. He has also written for  City AM, The Morning Star and the Daily Express.
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