- Six Portuguese young people filed a lawsuit against 32 governments, including all EU member states, the UK, Norway, Russia, Switzerland and Turkey.
- The cause of the lawsuit is climate change. Young people accuse countries of not taking sufficient steps on climate change.
- filed at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg. case the first of its kind. If successful, it could have legally binding consequences for relevant governments.
The six plaintiffs, aged 11 to 24, argue that the forest fires that have occurred every year in Portugal since 2017 are a direct result of global warming. Young people claim that their basic human rights, such as the right to life, privacy, family life and freedom from discrimination, are being violated due to governments’ reluctance to combat climate change.
Plaintiffs say they are already experiencing significant impacts, particularly in Portugal, as extreme heat forces them to spend time indoors and limits their ability to sleep, concentrate or exercise. Some also suffer from eco-anxiety, allergies and respiratory conditions such as asthma.
Plaintiffs did not request financial compensation
11-year-old plaintiff Mariana said, “I want a green world without pollution, I want to be healthy. I’m in this case because I’m really worried about my future. “I’m afraid of what the place we live in will look like in the future.” she says. Mariana says she still gets scared when she hears the sound of helicopters. She says that these helicopters remind her of the moments when more than 50,000 acres of forest were destroyed in 2017.
The plaintiff young people have not requested financial compensation. Lawyers representing six young plaintiffs will argue in court that the current policies of 32 governments are pushing the world towards 3C global warming by the end of the century.
Gearóid Ó Cuinn, director of the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), which supports the applicants, said: “This is catastrophic overheating. Unless urgent action is taken by governments, the young applicants in this case will face unbearable extreme heat that will harm their health and well-being. We know governments have the power to do much more to stop this. But they choose not to take action.” He included his words.
A 2021 study by the Lancet found that climate anxiety and dissatisfaction with government responses to climate change are common in children and young people around the world. It was stated that this situation affects the daily functioning of young people.
The study, based on a survey of 10,000 children and young people aged 16-25 in 10 countries around the world, suggested that the perceived failure of governments to respond to the climate crisis is associated with increased distress.
The governments responding to the case argue that the plaintiffs have not sufficiently proven that they suffered harm as a direct result of climate change or the wildfires in Portugal. Those governments claim there is no evidence to suggest that climate change poses an immediate risk to human life or health. He also argues that climate policy is outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic, who intervened in the case as a third party, says this case has the potential to determine how states address climate issues and human rights.
The ECHR ruling will be legally binding on 32 governments to step up climate action by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and phasing out fossil fuels. This decision will also affect local courts seeking guidance from the ECHR in cases related to climate change. The decision is expected within 9 to 18 months.
Compiled by: Nazlı Koyuncu