‘A case like no other’ – six young people suing countries over fires & heatwaves

Sunset landscape of the River Dão. The clouds that can be seen are not normal clouds, but smoke from surrounding fires. By Artur Tomaz Photography from Viseu, Portugal - Fire clouds, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50712680

Six young people from areas in Portugal ravaged by wildfires and heatwaves have taken on 32 European governments, alleging in court that their failure to act fast enough on climate change is a violation of their human rights (Reuters).

In a case filed in September 2020 against the 27 EU member states, as well as Britain, Switzerland, Norway, Russia and Turkey, this is the largest climate case ever to be heard by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.

The applicants, aged from 11 to 24, are saying that inaction by governments to tackle climate change threatens their rights including to life, physical and mental wellbeing.

They claim that forest fires which have occurred in Portugal every year since 2017 are a ‘direct result of global warming’, and add that the states named in the action are ‘failing to comply with their positive obligations’ under Articles 2 (right to life) and 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Right.

‘Thanks to the policies of governments, things are getting worse’

They are seeking a legally-binding decision that would force countries to act. 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.

A ruling on the case, which has the support of the British-based Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) is expected in the first half of 2024.

Speaking outside court, Andre Oliveira, 15, said: “Due to heat extremes, I’m limited in how I exercise and how much time I can spend outdoors. I’m forced to stay inside, I struggle to sleep and thanks to the weak climate policies of these governments, things are getting worse.”

Click here for more on the case from the European Court of Human Rights.

Click here for more details from GLAN on the six young people bringing the case.

Additional text from Reuters

Author: Simon Weedy

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