Meet the young environmental activists taking 32 European countries to court this week.

The landmark climate case is set to begin on Wednesday at the European Court of Human Rights.

Sofia Oliveira was 12 years old when the devastating forest fires in central Portugal killed more than 100 people in 2017.


He felt it was “now or never to raise our voice” as his country grappled with deadly human-caused climate change.

Now a university student, Sofia is preparing to take 32 European governments to court for failing to adequately address climate change.

Along with five other Portuguese young adults and children aged 11 to 24, she is accusing the countries of violating their human rights. The case will be heard at the European Court of Human Rights on Wednesday, September 27.

This is the first climate change lawsuit to be filed in court and could force action to significantly reduce emissions and build cleaner infrastructure.

A historical case of climate change

A victory for them in Strasbourg would be a powerful example. Young people Taking legal action to force our governments to realign their climate actions.

The Court’s decisions are legally binding on member states, and failure to comply with them makes authorities liable to heavy fines decided by the Court.

gave Courts Activists are seeing politics as a way to push back and hold governments accountable. Last month, in a lawsuit brought by young environmental activists, a US state judge… Montana Ruling that state agencies are violating their constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment by allowing fossil fuel development.

Why are young people taking European governments to court?

When the Portuguese group decided in 2017 that they would pursue Legal actionSofia wore braces on her teeth, was taller than her younger brother Andre and was starting seventh grade at school. The braces are long gone and Andre, now 15, is a few centimeters taller than her.

The past six years, Andre said in an interview, represent about half of his life.

What has gotten them through the piles of legal documents collected by a nonprofit group supporting them and through lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic is what they see around them. Compelling evidence says the climate crisis is getting worse.

Andre says that Praia do Norte beach on the Costa da Caprica, just south of the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, where Sofia and Andre live, was about 1 kilometer long when his father was his age. Now, in between Coastal erosion, it measures less than 300 meters. Such evidence led him to participate in climate protests even before he was a teenager.


The other four members of the Portuguese group – Caterina, Claudia, Martim and Mariana – are siblings and cousins ​​who live in the Leiria region of central Portugal, where summer forest fires are common.

Scientists say that the climate of the Sahara is moving towards southern European countries by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. PortugalWhere average temperatures are increasing and precipitation is decreasing. Portugal’s hottest year on record was 1997, followed by 2017. The country of 10.3 million people has had its four driest years on record since 2003.

It’s a similar story across Europe, and the six Portuguese’s legal arguments are backed by science. Earth had its hottest Northern Hemisphere summer ever measured, with a Record hot According to the World Meteorological Organization, August encompasses a season of brutal and deadly temperatures.

By reducing emissions by 2015, the world is far from meeting its pledge to stop global warming, scientists say. The Paris Climate Agreement. Global average temperatures are estimated to rise by 2 to 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times by 2100 at current rates of warming and emission reduction projects.

How do inadequate climate change policies violate human rights?

Among the specific effects listed by teens Portuguese plaintiffs are unable to sleep, concentrate, play outside or exercise during a heat wave. One of their schools was temporarily closed after forest fire smoke made the air unbreathable. some of Children Have health conditions such as asthma that make them more vulnerable to heat and air pollution.


They are being supported by the Global Legal Action Network, an international non-profit organization that challenges Human rights A crowdfunding campaign has attracted support from around the world, with messages of support coming from as far away as Japan, India and Brazil.

GLAN legal officer Gary Liston says 32 governments have declared the case “minor”. “The governments have resisted every aspect of our case… all our arguments,” he says.

Andre describes the regimes as “satisfactory”.

“They don’t see the climate as a priority,” Sofia added.

The government of Portugal, for example, agrees that the state of the environment and human rights are linked but insists that the government “endeavours to fulfill its international obligations in this area”. And it cannot be mistaken.


Are European governments sticking to their climate commitments?

At the same time, some governments in Europe are backing away from commitments already made.

Poland filed legal challenges last month aimed at repealing three key EU climate change policies. last week, British The government announced it is delaying a ban on new gas and diesel cars that was due to come into effect in 2030 by five years.

gave Swedish The government’s state budget proposal last week, meanwhile, cut taxes on gas and diesel and slashed funding for climate and environmental initiatives.

Amidst these developments, the courts are seen by activists as a support.

Globally, the overall numbers related to climate change, says the London School of Economics Cases has more than doubled since 2015 to more than 2,000. It says about a quarter were launched between 2020 and 2022.

When will the court pronounce the decision?

The Portuguese workers, who are not seeking any financial compensation, will likely have to wait a little longer. A decision in their case could take up to 18 months, although they see the decision to fast-track the court proceedings in 2020 as an encouraging sign.

A precedent is also giving heart to the workers. The Urgenda Foundation, a Dutch organization that promotes sustainability and innovation, brought the world’s first lawsuit against the Dutch government in which citizens argued that their government had a legal responsibility to prevent dangerous climate change.

In 2019, Dutch The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Urgenda, saying the government’s emissions reduction target was unconstitutionally low. It ordered authorities to further reduce emissions.

As a result, the government decided to close coal-fired power plants by 2030 and adopted multi-billion euro packages to reduce energy consumption and develop renewable energy, among other measures.

Dennis Van Burkle, Argenda.The UK’s legal adviser accused governments of choosing climate change targets that are “politically convenient” instead of listening to climate scientists. Judges could force them to justify that what they are doing on climate issues is enough, he said.

“Currently there is no such check at any level,” he said. “It’s incredibly important that the courts can contribute.”

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