Swiss climate case rejected, could proceed to Federal Supreme Court next

Zurich, Switzerland, 7 December 2018 – In conflict with overwhelming scientific evidence, the Swiss Federal Administrative Court has ruled that women over 75 years old are not more impacted by the effects of climate change than other population groups. The court rejected a case led by the group Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland and four individual complainants [1]. The decision prevents senior women and other vulnerable groups from demanding the protection of fundamental human rights threatened by climate change.

The group of more than 1100 senior women now has 30 days to take the case to the highest court in Switzerland, the Federal Supreme Court.

In response, Rosmarie Wydler-Wälti, co-president of Senior Women for Climate Protection, said, “I am shocked that the Federal Administrative Court failed to recognize the special health concerns older Swiss women face as a population highly vulnerable to climate change. The decision completely failed to consider the heightened health risks senior women face in a warming world [2]. As older women are hospitalized and even dying due to climate-induced heat waves, we demand a proper legal examination of the current and ongoing violations of our rights to life and health.”

 Georg Klingler, climate expert from Greenpeace Switzerland, has supported the Swiss seniors’ case from the beginning. He added, “The Paris Agreement explicitly affirms the importance of human rights in climate protection. If the Federal Administrative Court’s decision stands uncontested, the Swiss government would be free to ignore human rights in its climate actions. As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet recently explained, climate change is already affecting people’s lives and the enjoyment of human rights, particularly for vulnerable communities. Governments have an obligation to to step up their commitments to action in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change [3].”

The link between climate change and human rights also weighs heavily in the recent Urgenda vs. The Netherlands decision, in which a Dutch court defined minimal obligations of the state to act on climate change and protect human rights [4].
Notes:
[1] Link to decision (in German): https://klimaseniorinnen.ch/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Scan_urteil-BvG_20180512.pdf
[2] The 2018 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: shaping the health of nations for centuries to come, published online on 28 November 2018 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)32594-7, see page 6.
For detailed information on the scientific and legal basis of the case, see C Bähr, U Brunner, K Casper, S Lustig, ‘KlimaSeniorinnen: lessons from the Swiss senior women’s case for future climate litigation’ (2018)  9 Journal of Human Rights and the Environment 194, available at: https://www.elgaronline.com/view/journals/jhre/9-2/jhre.2018.02.04.xml.
[3] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, Open Letter, 21 November 2018, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/ClimateChange/OpenLetterHC21Nov2018.pdf
[4] For more details about Urgenda v. The Netherlands, see: https://www.urgenda.nl/en/themas/climate-case/

History of the case:

See also article published in september 2018 in the Journal for Human Rights and the Environment: https://www.elgaronline.com/view/journals/jhre/9-2/jhre.2018.02.04.xml

In November 2016, Senior Women for Climate Protection filed a legal request with the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC) and other federal authorities, calling for greater climate ambition in order to protect their fundamental rights to life and health. After the authorities rejected the request, the group filed an appeal with the Federal Administrative Court. The Federal Administrative Court has now rejected the appeal, using the flawed reasoning that everyone is impacted by climate change and thus the senior women do not have a right to have their case heard.

Contacts:
Kristin Casper, Litigation Counsel, Greenpeace International, +1 720 917-8498, kristin.casper@greenpeace.org

Rosmarie Wydler-Wälti, Co-president, Senior Women for Climate Protection, +41 79 567 67 73, rosmariewydler@sunrise.ch

Ursula Brunner, Legal Counsel, Senior Women for Climate Protection, +41 79 293 0282 / 43 377 66 88, brunner@ettlersuter.ch

Cordelia Bähr, Legal Counsel, Senior Women for Climate Protection, +41 78 801 70 34, baehr@ettwein.ch

Georg Klingler, Climate Expert, Greenpeace Switzerland, +41 79 785 07 38, gklingle@greenpeace.org

Feature image: Anna Grear

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