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ECHR: A concise analysis on the case Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland

On the 9th of April 2024, the European Court of Human Rights condemned the Swiss Government for not implementing efficient climate change policies and for violating the right to life.

The applicant of this case was a Swiss association of elderly women, between the age of 78 and 89, whom since 2016 fought for the prevention of climate changes. The applicants complained about the health problems caused by the global warming and the effects on their health conditions especially during heatwaves.

After exhausting all the domestic remedies in Switzerland, the applicants brought the case before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and the charges against Switzerland were on Article 2 (right to life), Article 6 (right to a fair trial), Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), and the criteria sets on Article 34 (victim status). The Court held that there was a violation of Article 8 and Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

In Article 8 the Swiss authorities failed to comply with its duties, also known as positive obligations, to implement measures to reduce the effects of climate change and as such failed to meet its greenhouse emission reduction target; while in Article 6 § 1 there is a lack of available avenues by the Swiss national law where to bring complaints to a court, because before the ECHR the case was only rejected by an administrative authority and then by national courts at two levels of jurisdiction.

Whilst these two articles were found to be properly violated by Switzerland, the Grand Chamber found inadmissible the complaints against Article 2 and Article 13 for the lack of effective elements against Switzerland.

In accordance with Article 34 of the Convention, the Grand Chamber seized upon this judgement as a chance to establish new criteria concerning the victim status in climate-related cases and to prevent potential future instances of actio popularis

One could argue that the decision made by the Court on the case Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland was too harsh on the Swiss authorities. On the same day other two cases, Carême v. France and Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal, having the same charges on climate change were found inadmissible.

Concerning the case against France, the complaints made by the applicant were not accepted because the same applicant does not live anymore in the place where he is seeking remedies, and it is considered inadmissible under aArticle 34.

As regards of the complaints against Portugal, the applicants failed to exhaust all domestic remedies, and therefore it is against the applicability criteria sets by the Convention.

For certain the decision made by the Court against Switzerland has brought many criticisms and doubts on the fairness of the judgement, but it has marked the Court’s first ruling on a climate case and enriching so the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.

Thomas AGUIAR, Ingrid POUWER, Marie-Lise SALAME, Chiara SOUVLAKIS, Nadia DJENNI