The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) began hearing an “unprecedented” case on Wednesday brought by six youths against 32 European countries, including Bulgaria, CNN reported. The claimants, aged between 11 and 24 and all from Portugal, accuse countries of failing to tackle the man-made climate crisis. They say they are on the front lines of climate change and will ask the court to force those countries to quickly reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases to meet the goal of the December 12, 2015 Paris Agreement to limit the greenhouse effect to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The group, whose youngest member is just 11 years old, will try to prove that European governments’ inaction on climate change discriminates against all young people and poses a tangible risk to their lives and health.
For the first time in human history
so many countries have to defend themselves
before any court in the world.
“This is a real case of David versus Goliath,” said Dr Gearoid O’Quinn, director of the Global Legal Action Network, which is supporting the young people’s claim.
“It is unprecedented in its scale and in its consequences,” he adds.
The impact of the case will be very large. If the six children succeed in convincing the judges that by failing to act on the greenhouse effect the governments of the defendant countries are violating the rights of young Europeans, they will be forced to take immediate action to deal with the pressing problem.
However, if the court rules against the young plaintiffs, it could prove detrimental to other cases regarding global warming and the fight against it.
Meanwhile, the 32 countries agreed to launch a joint response to the children’s claim. Britain spoke first to reject it and said on behalf of the others that it should be terminated by the ECtHR because London believes it is outside the jurisdiction of that judicial institution.
“Countries fully understand the seriousness of the fight against climate change. But with the referral of the case to the ECtHR, the national courts have lost the opportunity to express their opinion, and the national governments – to form a consensus. The applicants seek to impose far-reaching obligations with profound social and economic consequences for the respondent states,” said lawyer Sudhanshu Swarup on behalf of the UK.
Children have been prompted to seek their rights at the ECtHR following a series of forest fires in Portugal in 2017 that killed more than 100 people and are believed to have been exacerbated by climate change.
Fifteen-year-old Andre Oliveira, who was only 9 at the time, described what happened as
He says smoke from the fires worsened his asthma, and repeated bouts of intense heat have since made it difficult for him to sleep and concentrate on studying for exams. They even prevent him from going outside and playing basketball with friends.
Not only their physical health is affected. Andre’s sister, 18-year-old Sofia, says the anxiety caused by the annual natural disasters interferes with her daily life.
None of the six young applicants are asking for financial compensation, just clear and certain action by European countries to stop climate change.
The defendant countries are the 27 EU member states plus Norway, Russia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Turkey.