European Court of Human Rights

Portuguese youth activists sue 33 countries over the climate crisis

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Two young adults and four children from Portugal have filed the first-ever climate crisis case with the European court of human rights in Strasbourg, France. They are demanding that 33 countries, including the European Union itself, drastically curb carbon emissions in order to ensure the safety and well-being of future generations. The case is grounded in the belief that climate inaction represents discrimination against the young, impinging on their ability to live healthy lives in the decades to come.

“We have seen unbearable heatwaves that cause water shortages and damage food production, and violent wildfires that give us anxiety and make us afraid to travel through our country’s forests … If we already see these extremes in 2020, what will the future be like?” said Sofia Oliveira, 15.

The young plaintiffs are being represented by experts in environmental and climate change law and supported by NGO Global Legal Action Network (Glan), which crowdfunded £27,000 to support the effort. Next, the court will consider whether the case is admissible. If they accept the case they will then begin considering its merits, a process that could take several years.

Source: Sabin Center, Arnold & Porter, Grantham Research Institute

The case is among the most prominent of a quickly growing list of climate-related court actions. Since 1990, more than 1300 climate-related lawsuits have been filed around the world. This one is particularly important because the rulings of the Strasbourg human rights court have binding implications for many courts throughout Europe. If the activists win the case, they could force government action in dozens of European nations.

What more can we do to pressure governments into taking meaningful action against the biggest crisis of our time?

Peter Schulte

Peter Schulte is the founder and editor of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA, USA with his wife, son, and cat.

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