Six teenagers take 32 countries to court over forest fires and heat waves


The European Court of Human Rights will hear an “unprecedented” case on Wednesday brought by six teenagers against 32 European countries. Man-made climate crisis.

All those between the ages of 11 and 24 and from Portugal, who argue that they are at the forefront of climate change, will ask the court to force these countries to accelerate climate action.

This is the first climate case filed at the European Court of Human Rights and the largest of a total of three climate cases heard by the court.

The stakes are high. A win would force countries to quickly scale back their climate ambitions and give a big boost to the prospects of other climate lawsuits around the world — particularly those arguing that countries have human rights obligations to protect people from the climate crisis.

If the court rules against the claimants, it could harm other climate claims.

“This is truly a David and Goliath case that is unprecedented in its scale (and) in its potential implications,” said Gearóid Ó Cuinn, director of the Global Legal Action Network, or GLAN.

“A lot of states have had to defend themselves before anywhere else in the world,” he told CNN.

The journey to Wednesday’s trial began six years ago. “Everything started with a fire in 2017,” said Katerina Motta, one of the claimants.

Devastating wildfires They burned 500,000 hectares of Portugal And more than 100 people were killed that year. As the fire spread toward where Mota lived, his school and others in the area were closed. “Smoke was everywhere,” he told CNN.

The disaster prompted the lawsuit. Motta began talking with her friend and now fellow claimant, Claudia Duarte Agostinho, and with the help of GLAN they gathered four more claimants, all of whom were victims of the 2017 fire.

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Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

A firefighter battles a fire after a forest fire claimed dozens of lives near Petrocao Grande in Leiria district, Portugal on June 19, 2017. Some of the victims died inside their cars as they tried to flee the area.

Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

A woman reacts to flames approaching her home after a forest fire claimed dozens of lives in a village near Petrocao Grande in Leiria district, Portugal on June 19, 2017.

Although this demand was fueled by fire, climate change continues to affect their lives, the group argues, in particular Severe heat waves Portugal continues to experience that. These periods make it difficult for them to go outside, focus on schoolwork, sleep and even breathe for some, and take a toll on their mental health, they say.

“It makes us worry about our future. How can we not be afraid?” said 15-year-old claimant André dos Santos Oliviera.

The case, filed in 2020 and heavily reliant on crowdfunding, was fast-tracked by the European Court of Human Rights due to the urgency of the issue and the large number of defendants.

On Wednesday, the claimants will argue that failure to tackle the accelerating climate crisis violates their human rights, including their rights to life and family life, freedom from inhumane treatment and freedom from discrimination based on age.

They are asking the court to rule that countries fueling the climate crisis have obligations to protect not only their own citizens, but also those outside their borders.

Their demand is for the 27 EU countries and 32 countries including Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom to drastically reduce their planet-warming pollution and force companies headquartered within their borders to reduce emissions across their entire supply chain. chains.

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For their part, the sued countries have said in written submissions that none of the claimants have established that they have suffered serious harm as a result of climate change.

The government in Greece – a country that has experienced a deadly summer Heat, fire And Storms – said in its response: “The effects of climate change recorded so far do not appear to directly affect human life or human health.”

Courtesy Marcelo Engenheiro

Four of the six claimants are: Martim Duarte, 17, Claudia Duarte, 21, Mariana Duarte, 8, and Catarina Mota, 20.

The case can go one of several ways.

The court may reject the request on procedural grounds or decide that it does not have jurisdiction to hear it.

If it passes procedural hurdles, the court may rule that states have no human rights obligations when it comes to climate change. Director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, Michael B. “It’s very damaging to other cases like this,” Gerrard said.

Or, the court may rule in favor of the petitioners. The ruling “acts like a legally binding agreement,” Quinn told CNN, obliging all 32 countries to accelerate climate action.

“This could be a very important decision that will encourage more climate events across Europe and in many other regions,” Gerrard told CNN.

The case is the largest of three claims put before the court, all of which concern countries’ obligations to their citizens when it comes to climate change.

The court heard the other two in March. One brought More than 2,000 elderly Swiss womenAnother French mayor said France’s failure to act on climate change violated his human rights, saying heat waves caused by climate change were undermining their health and quality of life.

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It’s unclear whether the courts will rule on all the claims at once, but the time frame between trial and judgment is typically nine to 18 months, said Gerry Liston, senior attorney for GLAN.

as Extreme weather worsensA climate case is being proven An increasingly popular tool Efforts should be made to force climate action, especially by the world’s nations Not doing enough To reduce pollution and prevent catastrophic levels of global warming.

Even if current climate policies are met, the world is still on track Above 2.5 degrees Celsius warming above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The planet has already warmed 1.2 degrees, and the implications are clear. This year alone has set a record Heat waves, Unprecedented wildfires And A catastrophic flood.

Countries are currently doing the bare minimum, GLAN’s Liston said, and if every country did, “we’re going to continue down this absolutely disastrous path.”

Due to this people have resorted to court. According to the Sabin Center, there are more than 2,400 cases of climate change worldwide, with more added every week.

Climate litigation is an important tool, said Catherine Higham, co-ordinator of global climate change laws at the London School of Economics. “But I think it’s absolutely only one piece of the puzzle,” he told CNN.

He added that regular advocacy and climate conferences like the upcoming United Nations COP28 summit in Dubai are also essential.

For the Portuguese claimants, it will be an anxious wait for the court’s decision. Motta said that even if the claim doesn’t go their way, at least people should sit up and take notice.

However, he added, “We expect a positive outcome.”

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