window.dataLayer = window.dataLayer || []; function gtag(){dataLayer.push(arguments);} gtag('js', new Date()); gtag('config', 'G-XZCLKHW56X'); N°24 - The battle of the elders - Ereb

N°24 – The battle of the elders


Geneva, 24th April
Everyone says that we’ve made history. And it’s true. We, Elders for the Climate, women with an average age of 73, have taken the question of the climate and fundamental rights all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. And the protection of the climate is now a human right!

This legal victory was the end of an eight-year marathon for us. When we decided to sue the Swiss government for climate inaction in 2016, I didn’t think we would get this far, personally… And a few days before the verdict on the 9th April, I didn’t think the Court would take such a strong decision either.

We arrived in Strasbourg the day before the verdict. Journalists boarded the train with me in Geneva, to cover the journey. Then in Bâle, other journalists got on the train to cover the event, which really got me into gear!

That evening, I have to admit, I had a bit of trouble sleeping. We were full of questions, envisaging every possible outcome.

We arrived at Court very early in the morning. There were a lot of people. We waited in a room opposite the Grand Chamber. Tension and emotion mounted. Before finally we were allowed in.

We had already been in that room a year before for our public hearing. Answering questions from the 17 judges, in the Grand Chamber which deals with important and complex cases, was a very powerful moment, a magnificent moment. There were media from all over the world, because it was the first, and above all, standing directly in front of us, was the Swiss Confederation.

Jenny Sandvig, the representative of the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions, made a very lasting impression on me that day. She said to the president of the court: “Few people have the power to change the course of history, but you do.”

On the 9th April, the atmosphere was different. We were a little more tense. We were waiting for the ruling and everything took much longer than we had imagined. As the chairwoman developed the Court’s decision, I exchanged glances with the French lawyer sitting next to me. He whispered “it’s all good” and gave me a wink, heads turned, but we had to remain calm. You couldn’t jump for joy inside the room.

When we got out, there was an explosion of emotions. But it took us a while to fully realise just how important the ruling was!

The ruling mentioned violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by Switzerland for failing to implement sufficient measures to combat climate change. Firstly, there was the violation of Article 8 relating to the right to health and to private and family life. There was also the violation of Article 6, which guarantees access to a court, which we didn’t have in Switzerland.

There weren’t any courageous judges in our Swiss courts. Our application wasn’t even badly received in Switzerland, it wasn’t received at all (before applying to the ECHR, Elders for the Climate turned to the Swiss government, the Administrative Court and the Federal Court, ed.). We were met with deplorable arguments. We were told that we hadn’t reached two degrees warming yet, that we hadn’t been affected enough. It was staggering.

In our association, there are women who were physically affected by the 2003 heatwave. During the summer of 2003, we realised that we were going to experience terrible things. Many people died, many of them elderly.

All the reports show that women have been particularly hard hit. Respiratory and cardiovascular problems, fainting, exhaustion… Older women are particularly vulnerable to climate change. So that’s what motivated us to set up this association of older women to lead the legal action.

Instead of telling us, “Danger, stay at home”, every time it’s very hot, governments need to take action. Being forced into climate confinement no thank you! It poses problems for well-being, health, the right to life and a decent family life. That’s what the ruling says.

However, our victory is a victory for all generations. Now if you take legal action, countries will be confronted with this law. Switzerland should see this verdict as an opportunity. It should set an example and show the way to other European countries that will also have to comply.


Anne is a long-standing environmental activist. During her career as an elected representative, she found that “political courage was variable”. So after her last mandate in 2015, she joined forces with Elders for the Climate in a long and victorious legal battle, which took this association of women over 64, to the European Court of Human Rights.

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