By: Matthew Warren

On April 9, 2024, Europe’s top human rights court ruled that Switzerland’s failure to effectively combat climate change violated its citizens’ human rights.[1] In the case Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland, the European Court of Human Rights’ (“ECtHR”) Grand Chamber held that the Swiss government had not met its positive obligation to cut greenhouse gas emissions pursuant to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“the Convention”).[2] KilmaSeniorinnen is a group of over 2,000 Swiss women aged 64 and older that argued that they were particularly at risk of dying from heatwaves as a result of government inaction.[3] This is the first time that an international human rights court has upheld a right to climate protection.[4]


 The ECtHR was established in 1959 in Strasbourg, France.[5] It was established by the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) and issues advisory opinions and binding judgments on the contracting states in cases involving rights laid out by the ECHR.[6] Individuals, groups, and states can submit complaints directly to the ECtHR.[7] Pursuant to ECtHR judgments, contracting states must adjust their domestic laws to comply to the Court’s rulings.[8]


 The Court’s ruling enumerated the right to respect for private and family life in all 46 countries party to the ECHR.[9] Further, it found that the Swiss government violated Article 6 § 1 of the ECHR – the right to access courts – because its domestic courts did not adequately consider the merits of KlimaSeniorinnen’s case.[10]  Switzerland must now update their climate change policy to take steps more consistent with climate science.[11] Failure to do so can lead to further litigation at the domestic level and the possibility of financial penalties levied against the Swiss government.[12] However, the ECtHR does not offer any specific injunctions or goals that Switzerland must meet – the country is only required to do better than it has been.[13] While this lack of specificity is more toothless than some may prefer, creating a binding precedent on governments to take further steps in fighting climate change is a great step forward in combating climate change and safeguarding human rights.


[1] Gloria Dickie, Kate Abnett, & Christian Levaux, Swiss women win landmark climate case at Europe top human rights court, Reuters (Apr. 9, 2024),

[2] Robert Spano, Stephanie Collins, & Alexa Romanelli, European Court of Human Rights Rules on the Positive Obligations of Convention States in the Face of the Climate Crisis – Key Takeaways, Gibson Dunn (Apr. 16, 2024),

[3] Dickie, Abnett, & Levaux supra note 1.

[4] Greenpeace Int’l, Victory for Swiss Senior Women for Climate Protection: Climate protection is a human right, (Apr. 9, 2024),

[5] European Court of Human Rights, Eur. Comm’n, (last visited Apr. 22, 2024)

[6] Id.

[7] Int’l Just. Res. Center, European Court of Human Rights,

[8] The Danish Inst. for Hum. Rts., The European Court of Human Rights,

[9] Eur. Network of Nat’l Hum. Rts. Institutions, The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights issues groundbreaking judgment on climate change and human rights, (Apr. 12, 2024),

[10] Id.

[11] Ellen Ioanes, How 2,000 elderly Swiss women won a landmark climate case, Vox (Apr. 9, 2024),

[12] Dickie, Abnett, & Levaux, supra note 1.

[13] Joanes, supra note 11.


Photo Courtesy of Guillaume Perigois