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Portuguese youth sue European states over 'life-threatening' climate change

By Umberto Bacchi TBILISI, Sept 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Six Portuguese children and young adults, who have faced deadly wildfires and heatwaves, on Thursday filed a lawsuit against 33 countries with the European Court of Human Rights, claiming government inaction on climate change jeopardises their future. The applicants, aged between eight and 21, want the governments to ramp up efforts to curb planet-heating emissions, saying failure to do so threatened their lives and wellbeing.

Reuters | Updated: 03-09-2020 15:30 IST | Created: 03-09-2020 15:30 IST
Portuguese youth sue European states over 'life-threatening' climate change

By Umberto Bacchi TBILISI, Sept 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Six Portuguese children and young adults, who have faced deadly wildfires and heatwaves, on Thursday filed a lawsuit against 33 countries with the European Court of Human Rights, claiming government inaction on climate change jeopardises their future.

The applicants, aged between eight and 21, want the governments to ramp up efforts to curb planet-heating emissions, saying failure to do so threatened their lives and wellbeing. "It terrifies me to know that the record-breaking heatwaves we have endured are only just the beginning," said Catarina Mota, one of four applicants from the Leiria region, which was among the worst hit by 2017 fires that killed almost 120 people.

The two other applicants live in Portugal's capital, Lisbon, which has suffered from extreme heat in recent years, with temperatures reaching a record of 44C (111.2°F) in August 2018. "With so little time left to stop this, we must do everything we can to force governments to properly protect us," Mota, 20, said in a statement.

Thousands of climate lawsuits have been filed against governments and companies worldwide in the past few years, but this case is the first to be brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), lawyers for the applicants said. The action targets the 33 largest greenhouse gas emitters among the 47 member states of the Strasbourg-based ECHR, including all European Union countries, Britain, Switzerland, Norway, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine, they said.

According to research consortium Climate Action Tracker, those 33 countries are not doing enough to meet an internationally agreed goal of limiting global warming to well below 2C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial times. Inadequate state efforts endanger the physical and mental health of the applicants, who risk being exposed to more deadly extreme weather in future, said Gerry Liston of the nonprofit Global Legal Action Network, which is supporting the case.

"Climate change is causing not just physical effects, but significant anxiety," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. The six also argue that they are being discriminated against, because young people stand to suffer most from climate change which is expected to worsen over time, said Liston.

Their lawyers hope the court will find the states in breach of their obligation to protect the applicants' rights, and order them to step up measures to cut emissions while setting an influential precedent for national courts, added Liston. "European governments are falling far short of what is required of them to prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change that we are on course to face," he said. "Everybody has an interest in this issue, and therefore in this case."

Other recent climate lawsuits have produced mixed results. In December, the Netherlands' Supreme Court ruled in favour of a campaign group's demand that the Dutch government move faster to cut carbon emissions.

But in January a U.S. court dismissed a case brought by 21 youths who accused the government of infringing their rights to life and liberty. A year ago, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and 15 other child petitioners filed a lawsuit with a United Nations' committee, saying five countries that are substantial emitters of greenhouse gases were undermining their rights.

In May, Brazil, France and Germany - three respondents in the complaint - said charges against them lacked jurisdiction and were unsubstantiated. The case is still under consideration.


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