Six teenagers take 32 countries to court over wildfires and heat waves.


The European Court of Human Rights will hear an “unprecedented” case on Wednesday, brought by six teenagers against 32 European countries for failing to tackle the man-made climate crisis. has been accused of

The claimants, aged between 11 and 24 and all from Portugal, will argue that they are on the frontline of climate change and will ask the court to force the countries to step up 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 before the Court.

is at stake. A win would force countries to rapidly increase their climate ambitions and greatly boost the chances of other climate lawsuits around the world – especially those that argue that people Countries have human rights obligations to protect them from the climate crisis.

If the court rules against the claimants, however, it could be detrimental to other climate claims.

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

“Never before have so many states had to defend themselves anywhere in the world,” he told CNN.

The journey to Wednesday’s hearing began six years ago. “Everything started with a fire in 2017,” said Caterina Mota, a claimant.

Devastating forest fires have burned 500,000 hectares of Portugal and killed more than 100 people this year. As the fire moved toward Mota’s residence, her school and others in the area were closed. “Smoke was everywhere,” he told CNN.

The disaster triggered the lawsuit. Mota began talking to her friend and now fellow claimant Cláudia Duarte Agostinho, and with the help of GLAN, they gathered four more claimants, all of whom were affected by the 2017 fires.

Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

A firefighter tackles a blaze after a forest fire claimed dozens of lives near Pedrogao 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 near her home after a forest fire claimed dozens of lives in a village near Pedrogao Grande in Leiria district, Portugal, on June 19, 2017.

While the claim was caused by the fires, climate change continues to affect their lives, the group argues, particularly the extreme heat waves that Portugal regularly experiences. In addition to affecting their mental health, these periods make it difficult to go out, focus on schoolwork, sleep and for some, even breathe, they say.

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

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

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

They are calling on the court to rule that countries fueling the climate crisis have a responsibility to protect not only their own citizens but also those beyond their borders.

They are demanding that 32 countries, including the EU’s 27 plus Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey and the UK, drastically cut their planet-warming pollution and companies headquartered within their borders. Also force them to reduce emissions across their entire supply chain. Chains

On their part, the countries that are being sued have claimed in written submissions that none of the claimants have proved that they have suffered serious damage as a result of climate change.

The government in Greece – a country that has just experienced a deadly summer of heat, fires and storms – said in its response: “The effects of climate change as recorded so far on human life or human There is no direct effect on health.”

Thanks to Marcelo Engenheiro

Four of the six contenders: Martim Duarte, 17, Claudia Duarte, 21, Mariana Duarte, 8, and Caterina Motta, 20.

A lawsuit can take one of several forms.

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

If it passes procedural hurdles, the court could rule that states do not have human rights obligations when it comes to climate change. “It could be very damaging to other similar cases,” said Michael B. Gerard, director of the Sabine Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.

Or, the court may rule in favor of the claimants. The decision would “act like a legally binding agreement,” Ó Cuinn told CNN, forcing all 32 countries to step up climate action.

“This could be a very important decision that will affect the climate across Europe and probably many other regions,” Gerard told CNN.

The case is the largest of three claims before the court, all of which concern countries’ responsibilities to their citizens regarding climate change.

The other two were heard by the court in March. One was brought by more than 2,000 elderly Swiss women, who claimed that heat waves caused by climate change had harmed their health and quality of life, and another by a French mayor, who claimed that France’s failure to act on climate change is a violation of their human rights.

Gary Liston, senior lawyer for GLAN, said it was unclear whether the courts would make a decision on all the claims at once but the time between a hearing and a decision was typically nine to 18 months.

As extreme weather worsens, climate litigation is becoming an increasingly popular tool to try to force climate action, especially as the world’s nations continue to limit pollution. Not enough has been done to reduce and prevent catastrophic levels of warming.

Even if current climate policies are met, the world is on track to warm by more than 2.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The planet has already warmed by about 1.2 degrees, and the effects are clear. This year alone has seen record-breaking heat waves, unprecedented forest fires and devastating floods.

GLAN’s Liston said countries are doing the bare minimum right now, and if every nation does, “we’re going to continue down this completely destructive path.”

That is why people are turning to courts. According to the Sabine Center, there are more than 2,400 climate lawsuits worldwide, with more being added every week.

Kathryn Heim, coordinator of the Climate Change Laws of the World project at the London School of Economics, said climate litigation is an important tool. “But I think it’s absolutely a piece of the puzzle,” he told CNN.

He added that continued advocacy and climate conferences – such as the upcoming UN COP28 summit in Dubai – are also important.

For the Portuguese claimants, it will be an anxious wait for the court’s decision. Even if the claim doesn’t pan out, Mota said, at least it will make people sit up and take notice.

Still, he added, “we look forward to a positive outcome.”

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