Six young Portuguese youths have brought a case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Wednesday, alleging that 32 nations should have done more to tackle global warming. The Portuguese six, whose ages range from 11 to 24, claim they are suffering from “having to live with a climate that is getting hotter and hotter.”
The complaint to the Strasbourg-based court was also sparked by wildfires that hit Portugal in 2017, killing more than 100 people and destroying swaths of land.
Now, the Strasbourg court will be hearing them on 27 September, in a novel, far-fetched bid to arm-twist them into taking climate action.
With the support of the British-based Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), the Portuguese applicants, aged between 11 and 24, are seeking a legally-binding decision that would force states to act.
A ruling in the case is expected in the first half of 2024. If the complaint is upheld, it could result in orders from national courts for governments to cut carbon dioxide emissions blamed for climate change faster than currently planned.
Some of the plaintiffs say they have suffered allergies and breathing problems since the fire and that the conditions are likely to persist if nothing is done. “European governments are not managing to protect us,” said 15-year-old Andre Oliveira, one of the six who brought the suit.
“We’re on the front lines of climate change in Europe: even in February’s winter it’s sometimes 30 degrees. The heat waves are getting more and more serious,” he added.
The plaintiffs said all 27 European Union member states — along with Russia, Turkey, Switzerland, Norway and Britain — have failed to sufficiently limit greenhouse gas emissions, damaging their lives and health.
They argue that the failure to act infringes on their rights to life and respect for private life under Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
National courts could be ordered to cut carbon dioxide emissions if the complaint is upheld.
“Today we will stand up at the ECHR to argue for our rights and our future,” the applicants, who are all attending the hearing in person, wrote on social media.
Six lawyers represent the applicant, while more than 80 lawyers represent the accused countries. Gerry Liston, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, has admitted that “taking on the legal teams of over 30 very well-resourced countries” would not be easy.
Portugal’s legal team has told the court that it is dedicated to fighting climate change, and also that the applicants have not provided direct evidence of the direct impact on them.
The UK argued that the plaintiffs should have gone through national courts first and that since they are not nationals of the countries they are attacking, other than Portugal, the European Court of Human Rights should not yet have jurisdiction.
The European Court usually takes about two years to reach a ruling, but the real question here is not the justice of the complaints, but the extent to which the court can use human rights legislation to issue directives to sovereign governments, if at all.
Sources: MercoPress, Euronews.