Swiss parliament rejects court ruling on insufficient climate action

Swiss lawmakers reject climate ruling in favour of female climate elders

Co-president of the KlimaSeniorinnen says declaration is betrayal of older women

Swiss politicians have rejected a landmark climate ruling from the European court of human rights, raising fears that other polluting countries may follow suit.

A panel of Strasbourg judges ruled in April that Switzerland had violated the human rights of older women through weak climate policies that leave them more vulnerable to heatwaves. Activists hailed the judgment as a breakthrough because it leaves all members of the Council of Europe exposed to legal challenges for sluggish efforts to clean up carbon-intensive economies.

But the Swiss parliament’s lower house voted on Wednesday to disregard the ruling – with 111 votes in favour and 72 against – arguing that the judges had overstepped their bounds and that Switzerland had done enough. The declaration, which has been adopted by the upper house but does not bind the federal government, accused the court of “inadmissible and disproportionate judicial activism”.

“This is terrible from a rule-of-law perspective,” said Corina Heri, a law researcher at the University of Zürich, adding that “the whole system would fall apart” if lots of states started to pick and choose which rulings they complied with. “The term ‘slippery slope’ is overused, obviously, but it is a dangerous precedent to create.”

“the whole system would fall apart” if lots of states started to pick and choose which rulings they complied with

The KlimaSeniorinnen – or Swiss female climate elders – are a group of 2,400 women over the age of 65 who took the Swiss government to court for failing to do its fair share to stop the planet heating 1.5C (2.7F). After years of setbacks in regional and national courts, they escalated the case to Europe’s top human rights court and scored a partial victory.

But in a fiery debate on Wednesday, Swiss politicians attacked the court and mocked the women.

Jean-Luc Addor, from the rightwing populist Swiss People’s Party, the largest in the federal assembly, said: “These ‘climate elder’ are just a bunch of apparently healthy “boomeuses” [female boomers], who are trying to deny our children the living conditions they have enjoyed all their lives.”

Scientists have found that older women die at higher rates during heatwaves, which have grown hotter, longer and more common as people have pumped out pollutants that trap sunlight. A study from doctors and climate scientistsfound 60% of the heatwave deaths in Switzerland in summer 2022 were the result of climate change and that older women were hit hardest.

Ahead of the debate, the KlimaSeniorinnen and Greenpeace submitted a petition with 22,000 signatures urging politicians to recognise that human rights are the basis of democracy and should be independent of political majorities.

Rosmarie Wydler-Wälti, co-president of the KlimaSeniorinnen, said she was appalled by the declaration, and that it was not worthy of a constitutional state. “The declaration is a betrayal of us older women – and of all those who are suffering from the real consequences of global warming today and in the future.”

The vote comes days after the far-right scored sizable gains in European Union elections.

Switzerland, which is not part of the EU, will mark the 50th anniversary of its ratification of the European convention on human rights in November. The convention legally commits it to implementing the court’s judgments.

Evelyne Schmid, a professor of international law at the University of Lausanne, said small states such as Switzerland have a particular interest in respecting international treaties – and that the declaration from politicians will put the federal government in a difficult position.

“Members of parliament and everyone else can criticise judgments they don’t like – that’s of course legitimate in a democracy, and courts exist precisely for situations in which there is disagreement,” said Schmid. “But a parliament officially accusing the institution of ‘undue judicial activism’ sends a different, problematic message.”

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