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Human rights court makes landmark ruling, faulting government for not protecting citizens: 'I expect we're going to see a rash of lawsuits'

"It's not the first, and it certainly won't be the last example."

"It's not the first, and it certainly won't be the last example."

Photo Credit: Greenpeace

A group of women in Switzerland has won a major human rights lawsuit against the country's government after suggesting policymakers had not done enough to restrict global heating.

The New York Times reported KlimaSeniorinnen, or Senior Women for Climate Protection, took the Swiss government to court for failures in reducing carbon pollution, which the group believes violates Swiss citizens' human rights.

In particular, KlimaSeniorinnen, made up of women aged 64 and up, said its members were at risk of health complications following heatwaves, which have become more intense and longer lasting as a result of human-caused pollution. 

Some members reported fatigue and light-headedness amid extreme heat, while those with heart and respiratory diseases said heatwaves put them at increased risk.

Switzerland had committed to reducing its planet-warming pollution from 1990 levels by 20% by 2020, but emissions had been cut by only around 11% between 2013 and 2020. The country has also not put in place appropriate systems to measure success in reducing pollution. 

It's not the first, and it certainly won't be the last example of an activist group taking a local or national government to court for failures to commit to and carry out pollution-reduction initiatives, but the success of KlimaSeniorinnen is anticipated to open the gates for further litigation. 

"I expect we're going to see a rash of lawsuits in other European countries, because most of them have done the same thing," Michael Gerrard, the director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, told the Times. "They have failed to meet their climate goals, and failed to set climate targets that are adequate."

Meanwhile, senior lawyer for the Center for International Environmental Law Joie Chowdhury said the court victory represents the first time an international court has confirmed that the climate crisis is also a human rights crisis.

Generally, KlimaSeniorinnen's work proves that climate activism can make a huge difference, with this particular ruling perhaps having an additional impact when it comes to future judgments from climate-related lawsuits.

According to Rosmarie Wylder-Wälti, co-president of the group, it marks "a victory for all generations."

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