A group of Swiss pensioners were taking their government to a top European court over what they claim is its failure to take stronger action on climate change.

Lawyers and members of the group Senior Women for Climate Protection appeared before the European Court of Human Rights for a rare public hearing that activists say could mark a legal milestone in legal efforts to force governments to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

They were cheered by supporters and the environmental group Greenpeace who rallied outside the court.

Swiss pensioners protesting outside the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
Swiss pensioners rallied outside the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

The group, which has around 2,000 members across Switzerland with an average age of 73, argues that older women’s rights are especially infringed on because they are most affected by the extreme heat that will become more frequent due to global warming, which current Swiss climate policy contributes to.

“It’s been proved that we older women are particularly sensitive (to climate change),” plaintiff Rosmarie Wydler-Waelti, 73, from Basel said.

“We get sick a little bit faster due to heatwaves than older men or other groups.”

After exhausting domestic legal avenues, the group has taken its case to the Strasbourg, France-based tribunal in the hopes of setting a precedent that will apply to all signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It is linked to two further cases brought by other groups that will be heard by the court in the coming months.

“We are suing for our human right to life,” Lore Zablonier, a 78-year-old from Zurich who stood outside the court with supporters and the environmental group Greenpeace, said.

“With this case, we want to help spur politicians into action a little bit.”

A verdict is expected next year.