12 April 2024

Oxford contributes to landmark climate case

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(C) Hadi CC0 Wikimedia Commons

For the first time, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that weak government climate policies violate fundamental human rights.

The case was brought by the KlimaSeniorinnen – a group of 2,400 older Swiss women whose age and gender puts them at greater risk of death due to heatwaves. 

Since heatwaves are made longer and more intense due to climate change, they argued the Swiss government had a responsibility to cut emissions and help reduce the impacts of global heating. 

The court ruled that Switzerland had indeed failed to comply with its duties to stop climate change, and that the rights of these women to respect for their private and family life and access to justice had been violated. 

This is the first such positive judgement on climate change at the European Court of Human Rights, and experts predict it will set a precedent for more such cases across the continent. 

Research from a team including members of the Oxford Sustainable Law Programme, hosted jointed by the Oxford Smith School and the Faculty of Law, contributed to the landmark ruling and was cited in the final judgement. It showed the extent to which heat-related deaths can be attributed to human induced-climate change, contributing key science to support the KIimaSeniorinnen case. 

“Since the court found that insufficient climate mitigation action on the part of the Swiss government violates fundamental human rights, this must now be addressed through the adoption of adequate mitigation measures,” explains Dr Rupert Stuart-Smith. “This judgement is a significant moment in the development of human rights and climate case law in Europe and we’re proud if our research played a small role.”