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Swiss seniors sue government over climate change at European court

Tbilisi, Georgia
Thomson Reuters Foundation

A group of retired Swiss women said on Tuesday they were suing their government at Europe’s top rights court for failing to protect them from worsening heatwaves, in the latest such climate change lawsuit to be filed around the world.

Senior Women for Climate Protection wants ramped up efforts to curb planet-heating emissions in Switzerland, where the climate is warming about twice as fast as the global average – dramatically changing its famed mountain landscapes.

Switzerland climate change protest

Activists gather for a protest against climate change at Trient Glacier, in Trient, Switzerland September 6, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Rising temperatures pose a particular threat to the health and well-being of older people, said the 2,000 member group.

“Our demand for the Swiss government is simple: protect our health in the face of the climate crisis,” Rosmarie Wydler-Walti, the group’s joint president said in a statement.

Group members planned to hang bunting outside the court in Strasbourg on Tuesday ahead of filing of the lawsuit. 

A government spokesman declined to comment on the legal action but said Switzerland was taking decisive action against climate change including proposed legislation to boost renewable energy and other new measures.

Summer days with temperatures rising above 30 degrees Celsius, have become much more frequent in Switzerland in recent years.

That has led to an increase in heat-related deaths among the elderly, with women accounting for most of them due to their increased longevity, government data shows.

Inadequate state efforts to curb emissions could contribute to more extreme weather, threatening the quality of life of many older women, the claimants said. 

“I’ve stopped going out during hot hours [in summer],” Norma Bargetzi, 65, a member of the women’s group from the southern Ticino region, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. 

Switzerland aims to cut net carbon emissions to zero by 2050 and its parliament approved higher air fares and petrol prices to help reach the goal earlier this year. 

But environmental activists say the wealthy nation is still lagging behind the action needed to hit targets under the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change to hold planetary heating to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial times. 

“[Rich] countries like Switzerland need to show how we can reach 1.5 degrees, they need to pave the way so others can follow,” said Georg Klingler, a climate campaigner at Greenpeace Switzerland, which is backing the women’s lawsuit. 

The women hope the European Court of Human Rights will find Switzerland in breach of its obligation to protect human rights and force it to take action, after having their claim rejected by Swiss courts. 

Their climate lawsuit is one of thousands filed against governments and companies worldwide in the past few years with mixed results, but only the second to reach the ECHR. 

A group of Portuguese children and young adults filed a similar complaint against 33 European governments in September, arguing climate change jeopardises their future.



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