ARTICLE
23 April 2024

Climate Change – It's Everyone's Fight

BW
Bates Wells

Contributor

Bates Wells
"Climate change" and "climate crisis" have become synonymous with young people and their futures. But climate change is happening right now. A problem with talking about climate change in terms...
UK Environment
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"Climate change" and "climate crisis" have become synonymous with young people and their futures. But climate change is happening right now. A problem with talking about climate change in terms of young people only, is that it gives energy companies, unscrupulous governments and others who wilfully contribute to climate change, a reason to kick the can down the road and treat it as an issue for the future. Which is why the success of Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz (Swiss Climate Senior Women Association) – a group of older women suing Switzerland to demand climate action – is so welcome, as it hammers home that climate change impacts everyone and is everyone's fight.

Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz was established to promote and implement effective climate protection on behalf of its members – a group of women living in Switzerland, the majority of whom are over the age of 70. The association is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland and their effects on global warming. The association cite the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which found that women and older adults are among those at highest risk of temperature-related deaths during heatwaves.

The association sued Switzerland, in a claim brought before the European Court of Human Rights. They claimed that the Swiss government had violated their right to life by failing to cut emissions and avoid the consequences of temperature change. They submitted that in Switzerland, more deaths than average occurred during hot summers, mainly amongst older people. They submitted that in August 2018, nearly 90% of heat‑related deaths had occurred in older women, almost all of whom were older than 75.

The European Court of Human Rights issued its decision on 9 April 2024, ruling in favour of Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz. The Court held that Switzerland had failed to protect its citizens from climate change "in good time and in an appropriate and consistent manner" and that it had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to adequately address climate change. Consequently, the court required Switzerland to reassess and address its climate change goals.

The decision in Verein Klimaseniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland is the first time an international court has ruled that state inaction related to climate change violates human rights. Whilst the case does not set a binding precedent on all countries, it does highlight the increased appetite to bring strategic litigation to challenge governmental climate policies through the courts, leading to public scrutiny and sometimes – as in this case – damning assessment.

It is to be hoped that the success of the members of KlimaSeniorinnen in challenging their own government and winning will not only spur others into action but will force governments to review their climate policies to avoid facing similar challenges. That the victory also demonstrates that climate action is not the exclusive province of the young, is to be welcomed and celebrated.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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