Swiss parliament rejects landmark European court ruling in blow to global climate action

Swiss parliament rejects landmark European court ruling in blow to global climate action

Switzerland’s parliament has rejected a historic climate ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, setting a worrying precedent for global climate action.

A group of over 2,000 Swiss women over the age of 64 won a landmark climate lawsuit at the court in April that said the government was violating their fundamental rights by not doing enough to tackle the climate crisis.

The group, called Senior Women for Climate Protection, argued that inaction meant that their government was putting them at risk of dying from heatwaves.

Switzerland, like many developed countries, has failed to meet targets to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

The case was touted to have set an international precedent for governments to be made legally accountable for inaction on the climate crisis.

Climate groups said the ruling would establish that protecting the environment and human health from the spiralling adverse impact of the climate crisis was a human right and force governments to act.

By rejecting the ruling, the Swiss parliament just set a “concerning precedent” for how such legal action could go in the future, experts said.

Isabela Keuschnigg, legal researcher at the London School of Economics, said the move could “set a concerning precedent, undermining the role of legal oversight in democratic governance”.

During a dramatic session of the parliament in Bern on Wednesday, Swiss lawmakers lambasted the European court’s “interference” in the country’s politics and mocked the women as they looked on.

Michael Graber from the Swiss People’s Party criticised the elderly women for bringing a case “because they are a bit too hot in the summer”, Reuters reported.

“It’s really disgraceful what just happened,” Stefanie Brander, 68, told the news agency after the vote, shaking in anger.

“It’s an insult and a lack of respect of our rights which were confirmed by an international court.”

Raphael Mahaim, a lawyer for the women’s group and an MP for the Greens, said “a red line was crossed”.

“It is a dishonour for parliament.”

Activists gathered outside the parliament building held up signs saying “betrayed”, “shocked”, “alarmed”.

Swiss women protest outside the European Court of Human Rights in April (AP)
Swiss women protest outside the European Court of Human Rights in April (AP)

No member country has ever refused to implement a judgment from the European human rights court, Andrew Cutting, a spokesperson for Council of Europe, told Reuters.

But data from the European Implementation Network shows decisions on nearly half of the most significant cases of the past decade are still pending implementation, even though the governments are legally bound to follow the court’s judgments.

Whether Switzerland’s Federal Council will comply with the ruling despite the parliament’s decision remains unclear. The Swiss government has until October to report to the Council of Europe how it will implement the court’s decision.

The women’s group can complain to the Council of Europe if they feel Switzerland has not complied with the ruling.

The council, mandated to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law across the continent, oversees and enforces rulings made by the European Court of Human Rights.

It was considering doing that, Mr Mahaim told Reuters, possibly even before the October deadline given the parliament’s action.

The Swiss women’s lawsuit is one of a plethora of climate cases filed internationally in recent years. Climate litigation worldwide has nearly tripled since 2017.