Rising heat, more frequent wildfires and other extreme weather events fueled by climate change are already hurting the children in Europe. Unless governments take urgent action, the situation will only get worse.
This is the message of four Portuguese children and two young adults in a case before the European Court of Human Rights against 33 governments, all EU states, as well as Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.
On Earth Day, the case is an important reminder of governments’ obligations to act on climate change. Portuguese applicants, aged eight to 21, argue that heat waves and wildfires interfere with their right to life and harm their physical and mental well-being. They argue that these governments are responsible for this damage because they failed to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Applicants join a broader movement of youth activists from around the world using street protests, online activism and thesuits to denounce the government’s inaction on climate change. They also present a novel legal argument that they are victims of discrimination, as they have more years to live than previous generations and will therefore experience the worst effects of climate change.
Cláudia Duarte Agostinho, 21, one of the plaintiffs, told Human Rights Watch: “Seeing these changes always made me feel very anxious and worried about my future and the future of my siblings. It was in 2017, when the deadliest forest fires in the history of Portugal broke out, many in the region where I live, that we realized that something had to be done ”.
The lawsuit is in its early stages and a decision on its admissibility or merits has not yet been made. But the court has decided to expedite the case, recognizing the “importance and urgency of the issues raised. “When the 33 accused governments protested and asked the court to reconsider that assessment, rejected your request. The court has also ruled that governments must respond to both the admissibility and the merits of the case before May 27.
Human Rights Watch has documented how insufficient government action on deforestation and climate change has already damaged children’s rights. On Brazil, forest fires linked to illegal deforestation contribute to climate change and have poisoned the air. As a result, hundreds of babies have been hospitalized with respiratory illnesses. On Canada, the government has done little to address food poverty and health problems among indigenous children as traditional sources of food are depleted, in part due to climate change. And in the USA, increased heat has been linked to increased preterm births.
Heat waves, droughts and forest fires have increased in Europe in recent years and will get much worse if we do not urgently and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the European Commission found in a recent report. study. The impacts of climate change, such as extreme heat, water shortages, drought, forest fires and agricultural losses, are expected to particularly affect southern parts of Europe, including Portugal.
The Portuguese plaintiffs are also asking the European Court to place the burden of proof in favor of the plaintiffs when it comes to assessing whether individual governments have done enough to limit the rise in global average temperature to 1.5 ° C, in in keeping with his engagement in Paris. Agreement.
They suggest using the approach developed by Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis that tracks assessments of a country’s emission reduction target. The system assigns “fair share” ranges corresponding to the temperature results that would result if all other governments presented targets with the same relative level of ambition.
Under the Climate Action Tracker assessment, the climate action of all governments surveyed is currently “insufficient” or “critically insufficient”. The young plaintiffs say a government should have to show that its efforts are sufficient to prevent the worst outcomes of climate change. Otherwise, it must be assumed that the government has not fulfilled its obligations to protect the rights to life and physical integrity, among other rights, under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The governments surveyed must now submit their responses on both the process and the substance. The case promises to put government commitments to rapidly reduce emissions under intense scrutiny and challenge governments to show that they are protecting children’s rights from the worst climate impacts.
One of the plaintiffs is Martim Agostinho, 18, Claudia’s brother. He He says The court’s decision to accelerate the case gives him hope, because “the fight against climate change is a fight against time.”
Juliane Kippenberg is associate director of children’s rights and Katharina Rall is senior environmental researcher, both at Human Rights Watch.