Climate protection is a human right and associations can enforce it. Beyond a court ruling that will have a signal effect beyond Switzerland.

Three older women laughing

There is reason to celebrate: Rosmarie Wydler-Wälti (left) and her campaign colleagues Photo: Jean-Christophe Bott/keystone/Picture Alliance

Rosmarie Wydler-Wälti still can't believe that it's all over and that it worked. This Swiss woman from Basel, now 74 years old, has been suing her government for years because it does not protect the climate enough. Swiss courts repeatedly rejected the claims. Now the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has decided: Switzerland actually does very little, does not even meet the objectives it has set and is therefore violating human rights.

“We always wait until the EU has experience and then we will see if we can do the same,” Wydler-Wälti criticizes his government. But she is not a lone fighter, but rather co-president of Climate Senior Women, an association to which 2,000 Swiss women have already joined. The average age: 73 years. It was the climate elders who unsuccessfully sued the Swiss courts, but now they were able to convince the Strasbourg judges.

“I would always look at the lawyer in the courtroom because I didn't understand much of that legal English, and he would lean toward me and say, 'You can't even imagine that, that's really the ultimate benefit,'” Wydler-Wälti recalled Tuesday in Strasbourg.

The decision is likely to have repercussions far beyond Switzerland. For the first time, a court has established that climate protection is a human right and climate protection associations can sue it. On the contrary, governments commit human rights violations when they neglect climate protection too much.

Consequences beyond the Confederacy

Naturally, the latter is a matter of interpretation, since there is no concrete international agreement on the principle according to which the world divides climate protection obligations, for example, which State has the right to what amount of greenhouse gas emissions greenhouse. But in principle, it is now clear that the European Convention on Human Rights also requires climate protection somewhere.

Actually, that's obvious. Ultimately, by emitting greenhouse gases, humanity is actively causing the climate to become deadlier due to heat or flooding, living space to become scarcer due to rising sea levels, and crops to fail. destroyed due to drought, storms or heavy rain. A safe and dignified life is increasingly difficult due to the climate crisis. However, climate is not specifically mentioned in the European Convention on Human Rights. That's because it's 1950. At the time, there was no debate about the effects of greenhouse gases beyond the smallest research niches.

It is therefore not entirely certain how the Human Rights Court will address the issue. Through Climate Seniors' lawsuit, it has now established that Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention, the “right to respect for private and family life,” also includes the right of citizens to protection against harmful effects of climate change.

The sentence was like a bombshell, says Rosmarie Wydler-Wälti, who receives inquiries from all over the world. She has already spoken with media from Colombia, the United States and South Korea, which are not even member states of the Council of Europe, which are subject to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Not taken seriously for a long time.

Their work on the climate lawsuit began in 2015. Then the organization Urgenda won in a court in the Netherlands and the Dutch government was sentenced to greater climate protection.

Greenpeace environmentalists in Switzerland wanted to file a similar lawsuit. But who has the authority to sue? It had to be shown that government policy was particularly affected. Difficult with an issue like the climate crisis, which really affects everyone. But studies have shown that older people, and especially women, die especially often in heat waves. And so Greenpeace looked for committed women who could sue. At the time, Wydler-Wälti was part of the Grandmothers Revolution network, which works politically on various issues. She along with four other women founded Climate Seniors and started complaining.

“At first they didn't take us seriously,” says Wydler-Wälti. This week he received a derogatory message asking him if he had come to Strasbourg with a walker. “Primitive and very shameful nonsense on the part of men,” says the activist. Her success in court paves the way for legal action against the 46 member states of the Council of Europe. The ruling reads like instructions on how to do this.

It is now clear who can sue for climate protection. In the case of climate seniors, it was about their association, not about the women as private individuals. Again, this is not necessarily obvious. Do clubs have more private life than individuals? Are clubs more affected by climate change than people? The judges probably approached the issue pragmatically to avoid an avalanche of uncoordinated individual lawsuits.

Climate protection as a life task

However, it is not true that all climate protection associations can now move directly to Strasbourg. The judges made it clear that the path through the national authorities is essential, as the Swiss had done. Strasbourg judges rejected a parallel climate lawsuit brought by young Portuguese who had not done so. The Portuguese also attempted to sue not only their own government, but also more than 30 European countries at once, which was also not possible, the court ruled.

This text comes from Laborable day. Our left-wing weekly! Every week, wochentaz is about the world as it is and as it could be. A left-wing weekly with a voice, attitude and a special vision of the world. New every Saturday on newsstands and of course by subscription.

It is not the first time that Rosmarie Wydler-Wälti has participated in an ecological protest. In the 1970s, she and many other Swiss women prevented the construction of the Kaiseraugst nuclear power plant near Basel. “That's when she clicked. “That's when I realized you had to stand up for yourself,” she says. That is why the fight of the climate majors fulfills them: “This is truly my life's work, my mission.”

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