A team of young individuals is taking legal action against the governments of 32 countries, accusing them of infringing on their human rights by neglecting to combat anthropogenic climate change. This week, six Portuguese activists aged 11 to 24 presented their case at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France. This event marks a significant escalation in the series of legal challenges that climate advocates have been directing toward governments.
The plaintiffs contend that their rights to life, privacy, and non-discrimination are being undermined. They are optimistic that a favorable verdict will spur governments to intensify their efforts in addressing climate change.
Lawyer Gerry Liston, representing the activists, stated to The Associated Press, “Our evidence suggests that states can substantially increase their emission control measures, but they are consciously refraining from doing so.” However, legal representatives from the 32 defendant countries, including the U.K., Switzerland, Norway, Russia, and Turkey, have expressed skepticism about the validity of the case and whether the plaintiffs can genuinely be deemed as climate change victims.
Despite recognizing the gravity of climate issues, the defending lawyers believe the ECHR isn’t the appropriate forum for this case. Sudhanshu Swaroop, a British lawyer defending the U.K., argued that since the complainants are primarily Portuguese, the matter should be deliberated in Lisbon courts.
For the plaintiffs to win, they must persuade the judges that they have been directly impacted enough to be categorized as victims. Additionally, they must demonstrate that governments are legally bound to ensure global temperatures don’t rise beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels, in accordance with the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.
The activists were moved to approach the Strasbourg-based court due to the severe wildfires in Portugal in 2017, which claimed over 100 lives and extensively damaged the landscape.
Thus far, the judiciary’s environmental rulings haven’t addressed global warming specifically but have delved into matters related to natural calamities and industrial contaminants.
There’s a rising trend of activists seeking legal intervention to prompt governments into more aggressive action against climate change. Notably, a groundbreaking U.S. trial in Montana sided with young activists in August. These activists argued that state entities breached their right to an unpolluted environment.
Separately, in London, a mother has been ardently advocating for legal mandates to enhance the city’s air quality. This advocacy followed a coroner attributing her young daughter’s death to air pollution, marking the first instance in the U.K. where pollution was officially recognized as a cause of death.