- Written by Imogen Foulkes and Adam Durbin
- BBC News
More than 2,000 women are suing the Swiss government, claiming that its climate change policy violates their right to life and health.
This is the first time that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has heard a case on the impact of climate change on human rights.
This comes after six years of unsuccessful battles in the Swiss courts.
Temperatures in Switzerland are rising faster than the global average, and there are more frequent heatwaves.
The Swiss women — who call themselves the Climate Seniors Club and have an average age of 73 — say climate change is putting their human rights, their health and even their lives at risk. Their testimony to the court includes their medical records.
They want the European Court of Human Rights to order Switzerland to work harder to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Elisabeth Stern, one of the campaigners, told the BBC: “Because of climate change we have more heat waves and older women suffer more. They die more often during these heat waves than they do.”
“Some people say, why are you complaining, you’re going to die anyway. But we don’t want to die just because our Swiss government didn’t succeed in coming up with a decent climate policy.”
The European Observatory for Climate and Health says projected increases in average temperature are likely to have “serious public health implications” across Europe, particularly among the elderly.
In the past 20 years, heat-related deaths in people over 65 in Europe have increased by more than 30%, she says.
The Swiss government does not deny that climate change can affect health – but says it cannot be linked specifically to the health of older women.
If the women succeed, the case could set a precedent for each of the 46 member states of the European Court.
The rise in temperatures must slow if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, according to climate scientists. They say global warming should be kept at 1.5°C by 2100.
According to the United Nations climate body, IPCC, if the global temperature rise cannot be kept within 1.5°C, Europe will be vulnerable to floods caused by heavy rainfall.
Extreme temperatures can also increase the risk of wildfires – as was seen in Europe last summer. France and Germany recorded a nearly sevenfold increase in land burning between January and mid-July 2022, compared to the average.
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