Members of the KlimaSeniorinnen, a 2,000-strong group of senior Swiss women, celebrate winning their court case against their own government for its lack of climate-change action. (Credit: Shervine Nafissi, Greenpeace)

A group of women took their climate change concerns to court – and won.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled this week that the Swiss government failed to effectively act on curbing the effects of climate change. The decision cannot be appealed.

The ruling landed in favor of the Club of Climate Seniors or “KlimaSeniorinnen,” a 2,000-member group of 64-and-older Swiss women who rallied to bring the case to court. “It is clear that future generations are likely to bear an increasingly severe burden of the consequences of present failures and omissions to combat climate change,” Court President Siofra O’Leary said in her ruling.

Rosmarie Wydler-Wälti, one of the group’s leaders, expressed both relief and surprise at the ruling. “We keep asking our lawyers, ‘Is that right?’ And they tell us, ‘It’s the most you could have had. The biggest victory possible,’” she told Reuters.

For its part, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice – which represented the Swiss government in the case – said in a statement that “together with the authorities concerned, we will now analyze the extensive judgment and review what measures Switzerland will take in the future.”

The women filed their lawsuit in March 2023, concerned for their collective well-being. “Due to climate change, we have more heatwaves, and older women suffer more,” Elisabeth Stern, of the Club, told the BBC when the case was first brought to the court. “They die more often during these heat waves than they otherwise would.”

And rising temperatures are an especially pressing concern for the western European nation, as its landlocked status denies it the cooling effects that come from bordering on a body of water. And, Stern added to the BBC last March, senior women have a stake in that matter. “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 has not been successful in coming up with a decent climate policy.”

The case was actually first introduced back in 2016, CNN reported, in light of what the Club says is a failure on Switzerland’s part to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement. Specifically, Swiss officials had been tasked with cutting its 1990 emissions levels by 50% before 2030. 

What followed then was a failed voter referendum on climate change action in 2021, which the Swiss government countered with a pared-back version of climate-change legislation. Experts said that version is not good enough, and fails to ensure the safety of Swiss citizens. 

With this win in court, climate change and legal experts alike anticipate ripple effects throughout the world, especially as other groups of concerned citizens pursue court action against their own federal governments for lack of action. 

Ruth Delbaere, legal campaigns director at global activism nonprofit Avaaz, told Reuters that the Club’s case, and the Human Rights Court’s ruling, “set a crucial, legally binding precedent, serving as a blueprint for how to successfully sue your own government over climate failures.”