Landmark climate change case won in EU human rights court

In what could prove to be a major breakthrough for civil efforts against climate change, a group of senior Swiss women have won a case in the EU Court of Human Rights affirming that human-exacerbated heatwaves are putting their lives at risk.

Thred Media
3 min readApr 13, 2024


The very first case ever registered at the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg has concluded with a landmark civil victory.

Late last month, a group of senior Swiss women with some 2,500 members brought forth a case stating that ‘woefully inadequate’ action from their government is putting their lives at risk.

Specifically, the Senior Women for Climate Protection bemoaned lax measures to combat rising temperatures and heatwaves linked to human-induced GHG emissions.

Just 11 days after the case was initially heard, the panel of 17 judges announced that the ambitious cohort had won. Upon leaving the building, the jubilant members were showered with applause and bubbles by 100+ supporters.

Court President Siofra O’Leary said the Swiss government had violated the right to a prosperous life for senior citizens by failing to put in place sufficient domestic policies to tackle climate change.

‘This included a failure to quantify, through a carbon budget or otherwise, national greenhouse gas emissions limitations,’ O’Leary told the courtroom.

The verdict, which cannot be appealed, could have a huge ripple effect on how climate litigation is dealt with across the world by both governments and civil society. The human rights angle is one that opens up a great opportunity on which to capitalize for activists.

‘The Swiss ruling sets a crucial legally binding precedent serving as a blueprint for how to successfully sue your own government over climate failures,’ said Ruth Delbaere, legal campaigns director at Avaaz.

Despite the change of tact working in this instance, two similar cases — one by six Portuguese youth against 32 EU governments, and another by an ex French mayor against his nation’s leaders — were thrown out on the same day.

In the latter case, the claimant had since moved from France and thus did not quality as a direct ‘victim’ of purported human rights abuses.

This suggests that adopting the human right infringement angle isn’t sufficient alone, careful litigation is still required to pinpoint government shortcomings.

The Senior Women for Climate Protection highlighted the fact that Switzerland is warming at more than twice the global rate, despite the fact it is an incredibly wealthy and technologically advanced nation.

As of yet, no direct sanctions have been put on the Swiss government, but it’s expected that a ruling will force the nation to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels more rapidly.

When it comes to climate litigation, it’s predominantly the younger generations fighting for their futures. To see our seniors carrying the torch in this instance is both refreshing and inspiring.

Originally written by Jamie Watts for Thred.