European court of human rights upholds climate change claim against Switzerland

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decision to uphold a claim against Switzerland has highlighted the country’s responsibility in protecting its citizens from climate change. The claim, made by the Verein KlimaSeniorinnen (Climate Seniors’ Association), focused on Switzerland’s failure to sufficiently reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thus potentially endangering the lives and well-being of its population.

The ECtHR ruled that Switzerland violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which safeguards the right to private and family life. While this may seem unconventional in a climate change case, Article 8 has often been used in environmental disputes due to the impact of pollution on personal lives. Switzerland, as a signatory to the Paris Accords, committed to curbing emissions to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. However, it failed to meet its 2020 target and lacked a clear plan to achieve a 50% reduction by 2030. Consequently, the ruling requires Switzerland to implement regulations that will enable it to meet these targets, similar to recent decisions by Dutch and German courts.

Responses to the ruling have been mixed. Switzerland’s Greens celebrated the verdict as an important step toward holding governments accountable for their climate actions. Conversely, the populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) criticized the involvement of foreign judges and called for Switzerland to withdraw from the Council of Europe, the parent body of the ECtHR. This opposition reflects a broader debate on the jurisdiction of international courts and the interplay between national sovereignty and supranational institutions.

This decision, while unique, follows a pattern seen in recent rulings in the Netherlands and Germany, where courts have compelled governments to take more substantial actions to combat climate change and protect citizens from its adverse effects.