Union of Swiss Senior Women for Climate Protection v. Swiss Federal Council and Others

Jurisdiction: Switzerland

Side A: Union of Swiss Senior Women for Climate Protection (Ngo)

Side B: Swiss Federal Parliament (Government)

Core objectives:

Adequacy of Swiss government's climate change mitigation targets and implementation measures

In 2016, a group of senior women, filed suit against the Swiss Government, alleging that the government had failed to uphold obligations under the Swiss Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) by not steering Switzerland onto an emissions reduction trajectory consistent with the goal of keeping global temperatures below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels/ Specifically, petitioners alleged the government had violated articles 10 (right to life), 73 (sustainability principle), and 74 (precautionary principle) of the Swiss Constitution and by articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The women's petition noted that their demographic group is especially vulnerable to the heat waves expected to result from climate change. It asked that the legislature and the federal agencies responsible for transportation, environmental protection, and energy be required to develop a regulatory approach to several sectors that would achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions of at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2050. It criticized both the targets currently under discussion in the legislature (20% by 2020 and 30% by 2030) and the measures by which the Government would pursue those targets. 

This petition was dismissed by the Department of Environment, Transport, Energy, and Communications (DETEC) on April 25, 2017. DETEC found petitioners lacked standing because their rights were not affected as necessary under Article 25a (1) APA (Administrative Procedure Act, Verwaltungsverfahrensgesetz,VwVG). DETEC determined that petitioners sought regulation of global CO2 emissions through general regulations rather than seeking a remedy for an infringement of their specific legal rights. They similarly found that petitioners did not have victim status under the ECHR because they sought a solution to serve the wider public interest of adoption of legislative reform to reduce CO2 emissions. Petitioners appealed the dismissal on May 26, 2017. 

On November 27, 2018, the Swiss Federal Administrative Court dismissed the case on the basis that Swiss women over 75 years of age are not the only population affected by climate change impacts, echoing DETEC’s determination that the injury and remedy were not specialized to petitioners. In January 2019 the judgment was appealed to the Swiss Supreme Court. On May 20, 2020, the Supreme Court denied the appeal. The Court concluded that the plaintiffs' asserted rights had not been affected with sufficient intensity, and that the remedy they seek must be achieve through political rather than legal means. 

On November 26, 2020, the Swiss senior women filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights. The application listed three main complaints: Switzerland's inadequate climate policies violate the women's right life and health under Articles 2 and 8 of the ECHR; the Swiss Federal Supreme Court's rejected their case on arbitrary grounds, in violation of the right to a fair trial under Article 6; and the Swiss authorities and courts did not deal with the content of their complaints, in violation of the right to an effective remedy in Article 13. 

The ECHR accepted the case on March 26, 2021. According to Greenpeace, who are supporting the plaintiffs, the ECHR gave the case priority status and called on Switzerland to submit a response by July 16, 2021.

On September 21, 2021, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the Swiss Section of the ICJ submitted a third party intervention providing observations on the effects of climate change on the right to life and the right to respect for private and family life and for the home and the positive obligations of States resulting from these rights, in light of principles of international environmental law, among other issues. The European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHR) also submitted a third party intervention.
Case documents

from the Grantham Research Institute
from the Grantham Research Institute
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