Landmark climate ruling by the European Court of Human Rights’ Grand Chamber in favour of a Swiss association for climate protection of elderly women

Autor: Suderow Fernandez Abogadas SLP

On 9 April 2024, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) Grand Chamber ruled on the case of Verein Klimaseniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland. The Court held that Switzerland was not doing enough to prevent climate change and found a violation of Articles 6(1) and 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), on the right to a fair trial and respect for private and family life respectively.

The claim was brought by the Swiss non-profit association Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and four women who are members of the applicant association. The association works towards promoting and implementing effective climate protection on behalf of its members, the majority of whom are over the age of 70. In their claim, the applicants requested the Swiss authorities to take real actions to address alleged omissions in climate protection and all necessary measures to prevent the increase of the global temperature, to safeguard their lives and health.

In the judgment, the Grand Chamber thoroughly analyses the relevant domestic and international legal frameworks on climate change, with a separate section on comparative law and domestic case law before delving into the analysis of the reported violations of Articles 6 and 8.

In analyzing the four women’s victim status, the Court set out two key criteria for recognising the victim status of natural persons in the climate change context:

(a) high intensity of exposure of the applicant to the adverse effects of climate change; and

(b) a pressing need to ensure the applicant’s individual protection.

The Court found that despite the applicants belonging to a group which is particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change, that would not, in itself, be sufficient to grant them victim status. On the other hand, the Court found that the applicant association had the necessary locus standi in the proceedings.

As regards the alleged violation of Article 8 ECHR, the Court reminded States’ positive obligation “to put in place the relevant legislative and administrative framework designed to provide effective protection of human health and life.” Moreover, the States also must apply that framework effectively in practice. In line with the international commitments undertaken by the Member States, most notably under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) the Paris Agreement, and the scientific evidence provided, in particular, by the IPCC, the Court held that “the Contracting States need to put in place the necessary regulations and measures aimed at preventing an increase in greenhouse gases (GHG) concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere and a rise in global average temperature beyond levels capable of producing serious and irreversible adverse effects on human rights, notably the right to private and family life and home under Article 8 of the Convention.”

The ECtHR’s Grand Chamber ruled that it had difficulty accepting that Switzerland’s mere legislative commitment to adopt concrete measures “in good time” satisfied the State’s duty to provide and effectively apply in practice, effective protection of individuals within its jurisdiction from the adverse effects of climate change on their life and health. This, together with the failure to quantify national GHG emissions limitations, led the Court to find that Switzerland had violated Article 8 of the Convention.

Moreover, as regards the alleged violation of Article 6 ECHR on the right to a fair trial, the Court noted that there had not been sufficient examination of the scientific evidence by the domestic courts to declare that there was still some time to prevent global warming from reaching the critical limit; that the domestic courts had not engaged seriously or at all with the action brought by the applicant association by not addressing its legal standing; and that individual applicants/members of the association had not been given access to a court, thus concluding that there had been a violation of Article 6(1) of the Convention.


Written by Laura San José Fernández