Six young Portuguese to sue 32 European countries over climate policies

-the six will argue that policies to tackle global heating are inadequate and in breach of their human rights obligations in the affected nations,

John Cassim

Harare, Zimbabwe (CZ) – In what could turn out to be the largest climate legal action to date, six young Portuguese nationals are suing 32 European countries, compelling them to rapidly escalate their emissions reductions.

The applicants are aged between 11 and 24 were driven by their experiences in the wildfires that ripped through the Leiria region in 2017, killing 66 people and destroying 20,000 hectares of forest.

The ravaging wildfire came following more fires that raged across Portugal, Greece, Spain, Croatia, and Italy.

The six will argue within a fortnight, in the grand chamber of the Strasbourg court that the 32 European nations’ policies to tackle global heating are inadequate and in breach of their human rights obligations.

Funding for this historic litigation was raised through crowdfunding by people around the world.

So far more than £100,000, has been donated for this action

“This case is unprecedented in its scale and its consequence. Never before have so many countries had to defend themselves in front of any court anywhere in the world,” Gearóid Ó Cuinn, of Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), is quoted by The Guardian to have said.

André dos Santos Oliveira, 15, said: “These European governments are failing to protect us. We are living in the face of climate impacts across Europe. In Portugal this summer we experienced heatwaves which are getting worse and worse. Our ability to do anything, to live our lives, is becoming restricted. The climate crisis is affecting our physical health and our mental health; how could you not be scared?”

The legal action six years ago, a few months after the wildfires in Leiria.

The six say they are already experiencing significant impacts of climate change, in particular increasing heatwaves, which has negatively impacted their daily lives, studies, and outdoor activities.

They argue that their health conditions such as asthma and mental health have been exacerbated.

Lawyers will present evidence that the current policies of the 32 countries mean the world is on track to reach 3 degrees Celsius of global heating within the lifetime of young people.

“In July this year, temperatures in Leiria reached more than 40 degrees Celsius,” said one applicant, Catarina Mota, aged 23.

“It is so difficult to comprehend that this is just the beginning in terms of the extreme heat. Our experts say at 3 degrees Celsius there will be even more extreme heatwaves that last for a month or more.

This will be unbelievable. Governments around the world have the power to stop this. European governments are choosing not to take their part. We cannot stand by and watch this happening.”

André is taking time off school to attend the hearing in Strasbourg on 27 September in front of 17 European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judges. He will travel by bus and train with his fellow claimants for the hearing.

“I will be there, I have to be, I could not be anywhere else,” he said.

“The thing that scares me the most is that it has all got worse since the fires in 2017,” he said. “We have had record-breaking heatwaves since then, we are losing our planet and it is very scary.

“Here in Portugal, we are one of the worst-affected countries. We had 43C this year; that is extremely hot, it was hotter than Dubai. It is not normal. I am trying to build my life, to go to school and to study, but it is hard to concentrate in such heat, it is hard to sleep, and then it is hard to study again. It impacts on my whole life.”

The case argues that the human rights of the six young people are not being upheld by the European nations.

Their right to life, their right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment, their right to privacy and family life, and their right to be free from discrimination.

In documents submitted to the court, the nations are dismissive of the claims, denying in many cases that climate change is a threat to human wellbeing at all.

The Greek government, in its defense said, “The effects of climate change as recorded so far do not seem to directly affect human life or human health.”

The applicants are suing 27 members of the EU (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden) as well as Norway, Russia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Turkey.

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