Climate Change

Climate justice takes centrestage at UN, top European court in historic firsts

UN General Assembly passes resolution calling world’s highest court to opine on state responsibilities towards climate protection; European Court hears case filed by over 2,000 senior women against Swiss government

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Thursday 30 March 2023

The hearing at Strasbourg. Photo: @ECHR_CEDHThe hearing at Strasbourg. Photo: @ECHR_CEDH / Twitter

March 29, 2023, was a historic day for climate justice as the concept featured in sessions of two top global institutions — the United Nations General Assembly in New York City and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France.

The ECHR witnessed the first-ever public hearing addressing the duty of states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including a case brought by the Swiss Senior Women for Climate Protection against Switzerland, a statement by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) noted.

Across the Atlantic, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling upon the world’s highest court, the International Court of Justice, to issue an opinion on state legal responsibilities to protect the climate system for present and future generations and the consequences of failing to do so.

The resolution was spearheaded through an initiative by the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu, a Small Island Developing State. It enjoyed the support of over 120 co-sponsoring countries, according to the CIEL statement.

In Strasbourg, a packed courtroom listened to the case — Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland where 2,038 elderly women have claimed that the Swiss government’s climate change policy is violating their right to health.

Human-induced climate change has caused intense heatwaves which are especially lethal for the elderly, the women have said.

Anne Mahrer, co-president of Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland, was quoted as saying in a statement by Greenpeace, the international environmental organisation: 

We have filed a lawsuit because Switzerland is doing far too little to contain the climate catastrophe. Rising temperatures are already having serious impacts on our physical and mental health. The big spike in heat waves is making us older women sick.

“The case (Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland, Application no. 53600/20) will set a precedent for all 46 states of the Council of Europe, and decide whether and to what extent a country such as Switzerland must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions more stringently to protect human rights,” Greenpeace added in the statement.

The development come just 10 days after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the Sixth Synthesis Report.

That report collated five years of research in climate science and policy and presented a clear roadmap to a livable future.

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