Home Granny Green vs. Swiss Scream: Upholding Climate Justice and the Rule-of-Law

Granny Green vs. Swiss Scream: Upholding Climate Justice and the Rule-of-Law

Flavia Cabaço
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The article discusses how Switzerland's rejection of a landmark climate ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) challenges the foundational principle of the rule-of-law.

Granny Green vs. Swiss Scream: Upholding Climate Justice and the Rule-of-Law


The Importance of Upholding the Rule-of-Law in International Environmental and Climate Obligations

In a recent and controversial decision, Swiss lawmakers rejected the landmark KlimaSeniorinnen v. Switzerland (1) climate ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which found that Switzerland’s insufficient climate policies violated the human rights of older women. This decision by Switzerland’s lower house has significant implications, not only for Switzerland but for the global effort to combat climate change under the rule-of-law.

The evolution of scientific knowledge, as well as domestic and international case-law and legislation have recognized that “environmental degradation has created, and is capable of creating, serious and potentially irreversible adverse effects on the enjoyment of human rights”(2). However, the ECtHR April ruling highlighted that Switzerland’s failure to implement robust climate policies disproportionately affected older women specifically, showing that climate change impacts are not gender- and age-neutral, which makes them more vulnerable to the adverse effects of heatwaves. This ruling was celebrated as a breakthrough by climate activists because it underscored the legal accountability of nations under international human rights law for their climate and environmental policies. However, the Swiss parliament’s decision to disregard this ruling, labeling it as “inadmissible and disproportionate judicial activism” sets a troubling precedent.


Upholding Judicial Decisions: A Pillar of the Rule-of-Law

The rule-of-law is a foundational principle in democratic societies, ensuring that laws are applied equally and judicial decisions are respected and enforced, which is essential for international peace and security and political stability. In the era we are living, this principle is especially critical in the context of international environmental law and international climate law. International Courts, such as the ECtHR, serve as vital arbiters in disputes where national policies fall short of international obligations, ensuring that states adhere to agreed-upon standards and protect human rights.

When nations disregard rulings from international courts, it undermines the entire legal framework designed to address global issues such as climate change. Allowing states to pick and choose, selectively complying with court decisions, could lead to a systemic breakdown, where international law loses its effectiveness and efficiency.


The Role of International and Regional Courts

International and regional courts play an indispensable role in ensuring that climate and environmental obligations are enforced by states. These judicial bodies provide a platform for holding states accountable, especially when domestic measures are insufficient. For instance, the ECtHR’s ruling against Switzerland was significant because it reinforced the idea that inadequate climate policies could constitute a violation of fundamental human rights. This decision has broader implications, as it opens the door for similar legal challenges across Europe, pushing nations towards more rigorous climate actions.

However, the Swiss parliament’s rejection of this ruling illustrates a growing challenge: political resistance to judicial oversight. In a decisive vote, with 111 in favor and 72 against, the Swiss parliament argued that the ECtHR judges had overstepped their bounds and claimed that Switzerland had already done enough to combat climate change. This resistance not only hampers progress in environmental protection but also weakens the credibility of international legal institutions.


The Broader Impact and the Need for Compliance

This Swiss case has broader implications for the international community. It highlights the tension between national sovereignty and international legal obligations. While nations have the right to self-govern, they also have a responsibility to uphold international agreements and court rulings that they are party to. This balance is crucial in addressing transnational issues like climate change, which require coordinated and consistent action, as well as global cooperation based on mutual accountability.

Furthermore, the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment was universally recognized by the Human Rights Council in 2021 and by the United Nations General Assembly in 2022 (3) . The ECtHR’s ruling against Switzerland builds on these developments, illustrating how international human rights law intersects with climate and environmental obligations. By finding that inadequate climate policies can violate human rights, the ruling aligns with the broader trend of integrating human rights into climate and environmental governance, as seen in the work of the Human Rights Council.

As a reminder, the Green Rights Coalition is part of a broader alliance advocating for the adoption of an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights which would reinforce and clarify ECtHR jurisprudence on environmental protection, including climate change.



The rejection of the ECtHR’s climate ruling by Swiss lawmakers underscores the importance of the rule-of-law in international environmental and climate governance. Respecting and enforcing international and regional court decisions is not merely a legal obligation but an imperative to safeguard human rights and ensure a sustainable planet for all, including future generations. As the global community grapples with the escalating climate crisis, upholding the rule-of-law becomes ever more critical in achieving the collective goal of a livable and just world. This Swiss case serves as a reminder of the challenges ahead, but also of the essential role of legal frameworks in driving meaningful climate action.


(1) Verein Klimaseniorinnen Schweiz and Others V. Switzerland, App no. 53600/20 (ECtHR Grand Chamber, 9 April 2024).

(2) Ibid, par. 431.

(3) For reference, please see resolution A/HRC/RES/48/13 of the Human Rights Council dated October 8, 2021g2128950.pdf (un.org) and resolution A/76/L.75 of the United Nations General Assembly dated July 26, 2022 The human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment : (un.org).