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Climate change: Young people sue 32 European nations

September 27, 2023

Six young people from Portugal are taking European governments to court over an alleged failure to act quickly enough on climate change. The plaintiffs say the lack of immediate action is a breach of their human rights.

Five of the six young people suing 32 European nations during a rally holding signs, the largest of which reads "Stand with the youth"
The six young people suing European governments say their rights were infringed by "having to live with a climate that is getting hotter and hotter"Image: Jean-Francois Badias/dpa/picture alliance

Six young Portuguese people brought a case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Wednesday, alleging that 32 nations have failed to act on global warming.

The six, aged 11 to 24, claim they are suffering from  "having to live with a climate that is getting hotter and hotter."

What is behind the claim?

The complaint to the Strasbourg-based court was sparked by wildfires that hit Portugal in 2017, killing more than 100 people and destroying swaths of land.

Some of the plaintiffs say they have suffered allergies and breathing problems since the firesand that the conditions are likely to persist if nothing is done.

6 young people sue 32 nations over climate inaction

"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 it's sometimes 30 degrees [Celsius or 86 Fahrenheit]. The heatwaves 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.

What do the claimants want?

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.

Climate trial opens at European Court of Human Rights

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.

rc/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)