STRASBOURG, France (AP) — A group of Swiss retirees took their government to a top European court Wednesday over what they claim is its failure to take sufficient action on climate change.
Lawyers and members of the group Senior Women for Climate Protection appeared before the European Court of Human Rights for a rare public hearing that activists say could mark a legal milestone in efforts to force governments to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
The group, which counts around 2,000 members across Switzerland with an average age of 73, argues that older women’s rights are especially infringed on because they are most affected by the extreme heat that will become more frequent due to global warming, which current Swiss climate policy contributes to.
“It’s been proved that we older women are particularly sensitive (to climate change),” said plaintiff Rosmarie Wydler-Waelti, 73, from Basel. “We get sick a little bit faster due to heat waves than older men or other groups.”
After exhausting domestic legal avenues, the group has taken its case to the Strasbourg, France-based tribunal in the hope of winning a ruling that applies to all signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“We are suing for our human right to life,” said Lore Zablonier, a 78-year-old from Zurich who stood outside the court. “With this case, we want to help spur politicians into action a little bit.”
Lawyers for the Swiss government said they want the court to dismiss the case.
“The plaintiffs are not sufficiently affected with the required intensity in their right to life for the application to be admissible,” said Alain Chablais, who represented the Swiss government at the hearing.
“Switzerland is not alone (in being affected by global warming) and this problem cannot be solved by Switzerland alone,” he told The Associated Press.
Georg Klingler, a climate campaigner with the environmental group Greenpeace that supports the case, said seeing the Swiss government having to defend its climate efforts before the court “is a very exciting moment.”
Klingler noted that the complaint brought by the Swiss seniors is one of three related cases being heard by the court over the coming months and could set a legal precedent.
“Those three cases will define how this very important court will get involved in the biggest threat to human rights that we see nowadays,” he said.
A verdict is expected next year.