European court condemns Swiss government for failing to act on climate change

In a historic decision, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) condemned Switzerland this Tuesday (9) for failing to act on climate change, putting its citizens at risk.

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As a result, the case was presented by an association of Swiss elderly people, and it was a time when a European Court condemned a country for the first time on environmental grounds. The association denounced that the Swiss government put their lives at risk during the country’s last heat wave, in mid-2023.

In the same sentence, however, the European court rejected a demand from young Portuguese people against 32 European countries for the same reason.

The judges ordered, as a sentence, that the Swiss State comply with a series of environmental measures to contain global warming. The country’s government stated that it will comply with the sentence.

But the decision has more of a symbolic effect, as it established a precedent and can now be replicated by courts in all European countries, which have been receiving more and more cases related to climate change.

The ECtHR, based in Strasbourg, France, ruled this Tuesday for the first time on this and two other cases on the responsibility of European states in the face of global warming.

Of the three actions, the ECtHR only approved the demand presented by the Swiss association “Elderly People for Climate Protection” and rejected the demands presented by six young Portuguese people against 32 countries and by a former French mayor.

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The association, made up of 2,500 women with an average age of 73, denounced that the “deficiencies” of the Swiss authorities in terms of climate protection “seriously harm their health status”.

Furthermore, the demand from Portuguese people, aged between 12 and 24, targeted all European Union states, as well as Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Russia, for their inaction against climate change.

The court rejected the action, initiated after the fires that devastated Portugal in 2017 and killed more than 100 people, due to a procedural defect, as it had not previously exhausted legal resources in its country.

In the case of the environmentalist former mayor of Grande-Synthe, Damien Carême, who took France to the European court for climate inaction, he was not recognized as a victim, ECHR President Siofra O’Leary reported.

He brought the case in 2019, in his own name and as mayor, to the French Council of State for “climate inaction.” The higher administrative court ruled in favor of the city in July 2021, but rejected its individual complaint.