On September 27, the European Court of Human Rights heard a case that could force 32 European countries* to take stronger action on climate change. The case was brought by six young people from Portugal.
In 2017, a huge wildfire in Portugal killed 120 people and destroyed large areas of forest. That disaster led six young people from Portugal to take action. They filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2020. The case has just recently been heard.
The ECHR is a powerful court which is able to make decisions that all of its 46 member countries must follow. These members include all the countries of the European Union (EU), as well as about 20 other countries.
The six young people who brought the case are between the ages of 11 and 24. They argued that European countries aren’t doing enough to prevent climate change. They say that climate change has already caused serious problems for them. And they believe that as the climate changes more, the problems will get worse.
The young people argue that by not taking strong action on the climate crisis, the governments violated their human rights. The lawyers for the young people say the case “is about the price that they are paying for the failure of states [countries] to tackle the climate emergency.”
During the hearing, one judge asked the young people to be specific about how they were affected by the climate crisis. The young people pointed out that they had trouble sleeping, a harder time focusing, and that heatwaves made it difficult to spend time outdoors.
They say that the risks from the climate crisis are growing, and will continue to affect them and any children they may have.
Over 80 lawyers represent the 32 countries accused by the young people. They had many responses to the young people’s charges. Some lawyers said that the young people haven’t proved that they were affected by climate change. Others said that the young people should have sued in their home country of Portugal instead of at the ECHR.
Some lawyers pointed out that the climate crisis is a global problem, and that it’s not fair to only blame the countries in Europe. The lawyers say that European countries are already taking serious action to fight climate change.
The young people are not seeking money. They want the court to force the countries to take stronger action on the climate crisis.
The case may not be decided until early 2024. If the young people win the case, it could mean that the 32 countries will be forced to increase their efforts to fight climate change. That could include things like cutting pollution and limiting the use of fossil fuels. The governments could be fined if they don’t take action.
This isn’t the first time that young people have gone to court to fight for climate action. In the US, young people recently won an important climate case in Montana. Similar cases have been filed in Hawaii and Oregon.
Did You Know…?
Young people aren’t the only ones suing at the ECHR over the climate crisis. A group of Swiss female senior citizens are suing Switzerland, and an ex-mayor from France is suing France over how their lives are being affected by the climate emergency.
* The 32 countries in the case include all 27 European Union countries, along with Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, and the UK.