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Factbox: FACTBOX Swiss female pensioners vs the government: European court“s first climate case


The building of the European Court of Human Rights is seen in Strasbourg, France March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

A case involving thousands of retired Swiss women is being heard at a European Court in France, the culmination of a six-year legal battle in which they claim their government’s insufficient action on climate change violated their human rights.

The case, which campaign group Greenpeace initiated on behalf of the women, will be heard on March 29 in the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The case has twice been rejected by domestic courts.

Switzerland argues the case is inadmissible, saying the case is without foundation and questioning whether the applicants count as victims.

In a sign of its importance, eight other governments (Romania, Latvia, Austria, Slovakia, Norway, Italy, Portugal and Ireland) have joined the case. At least one has echoed Bern in calling for its dismissal.

Six lawyers, including two elite UK King’s Counsel lawyers alongside the original team, have prepared the case.

Here are some of their arguments:

– The case documents, or application in legal jargon, alleges four violations of the European Convention of Human Rights (Arts 2, 6, 8 and 13) including the right to life.

– They say the women’s age and gender places them in one of the categories cited by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as being at highest risk of temperature-related mortality. It also cites the IPCC saying heatwaves are becoming more frequent due to climate change.

– The case uses emerging evidence that older women are less able to regulate their body temperatures than others. It cites several reports including a 2014 World Health Organization document which says the majority of European studies show women are more at risk of dying from heatwaves.

– It says that around 30% of heat-related deaths in Switzerland can be attributed to climate change in recent years, citing a 2021 study published in Nature.

– Switzerland is aiming to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and to achieve net zero by 2050. Lawyers for the applicants says its targets are “woefully inadequate”.

– They take particular aim at Switzerland’s strategy of purchasing emissions reductions abroad and accounting for them in national targets – a strategy that came under media scrutiny during the COP27 climate summit.

– The lawyers call for the Chamber to order rarely granted so-called “General Measures” which in this case mean concrete emission reduction targets within a fixed timeframe.

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