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Landmark ruling in climate case initiated by children and young people

The European court of human rights (ECHR) has ordered 33 European countries to respond to a climate change lawsuit filed by six Portuguese youths, in a landmark ruling.

The case, filed against the 27 EU member states plus Norway, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, relates to how governments contribute to global CO2 emissions both inside and outside their countries. 

It also investigates whether or not the applicants’ rights under Article 3 of the European convention – “No-one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” – are being violated. 

After today’s ruling, the case will be treated as a priority and therefore fast-tracked. 

If successful, the governments concerned will be legally obligated to increase their efforts to cut carbon emissions at home and overseas. 

The lawsuit was first filed in 2017 after devastating Portuguese forest fires killed 120 people.

The cause of these fires was attributed to climate change.

Four of the plaintiffs are from Leiria, one of the areas worst affected by the fires.

The other two are from Lisbon, which saw its hottest day on record in 2018 with temperatures of 44oC. 

Cláudia Agostinho (21), Catarina Mota (20), Martim Agostinho (17), Sofia Oliveira (15), André Oliveira (12) and Mariana Agostinho (8) want protection of their rights to exercise outside and live without anxiety, having expressed concerns about the impact of global warming on youth mental and physical health. 

The countries listed are now required to respond to the complaints by 23 February 2021 unless a “friendly settlement” is reached in the meantime. 

The case alleges that not only are efforts to reduce emissions too weak within states, but outside contributions through exportation of fossil fuels, production of goods imported from abroad and the overseas activities of companies headquartered within the specified countries must also be considered. 

Most cases filed with the Strasbourg court fail to reach this stage, with Marc Willers QC, the British barrister representing the plaintiffs, saying in a statement that “It is no exaggeration to say that this could be the important case ever tried by the European court of human rights”.

Over 1,300 climate-related lawsuits have been filed globally since 1990.

This is the first filed with the ECHR. 

Filed through Global Legal Network Action (GLAN), a London and Dublin based NGO, the case has relied on international crowdfunding to finance its efforts. 

In an official statement, André Oliveira explained that: “…what I’d like the most would be for European governments to immediately do what the scientists say is necessary to protect our future.

“Until they do this, we will keep on fighting with more determination than ever.

“If we already see these extremes in 2020, what will the future be like?”

Image: CherryX via Wikipedia