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In a groundbreaking legal battle, six young adults and children, driven by their determination to address the urgent climate crisis, have initiated legal proceedings against several European countries. These young climate activists are suing European governments, alleging that they have failed to take sufficient action to combat the devastating effects of climate change. This historic case has unfolded at the European Court of Human Rights, a pivotal moment that not only holds the potential to bring about meaningful change but also establishes a significant precedent for climate activism worldwide. The lawsuit, in which “youngsters sue European countries over climate crisis,” underscores the determination of the younger generation to hold governments accountable for their environmental responsibilities.
The legal dispute involves 32 nations, including the 27 European Union member countries, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, Russia, and Turkey. The young plaintiffs argue that their governments have failed to sufficiently address human-caused climate change, thereby infringing upon their fundamental rights.
Alison Macdonald, representing the group from Portugal, emphasized the critical nature of the case, highlighting the impact of climate change on future generations. In a climate lawsuit that mirrors the growing global movement, often called “Youngsters sue European Countries over Climate Crisis,” she stated, “Today’s case is about the young. It is about the price that they are paying for the failure of states to tackle the climate emergency. It is about the harm they will suffer during their lifetimes unless states step up to their responsibilities.”
However, barrister Sudhanshu Swaroop, counsel for the United Kingdom, countered that national governments are well aware of the climate threat and committed to international cooperation to address it. He argued that the plaintiffs should have exhausted legal remedies at the national level before turning to the European Court of Human Rights.
Despite the defense’s stance, the young activists expressed dismay at the government’s arguments in the case. Claudia Duarte Agostinho lamented that governments seemed to minimize the impact of climate change. At the same time, 15-year-old André Oliveira remained hopeful that the court would recognize the situation’s urgency and rule in their favor.
Macdonald urged the judges to act urgently, emphasizing that the climate crisis is perhaps the most significant challenge Europe and the world face today. She called for countries to take a more substantial role in curbing planet-warming emissions.
As youngsters sue European countries over climate crisis, they believe successful climate cases have been seen at national and regional levels. Still, these actions need to go further to protect their rights. They argue that their rights to life, privacy, family life, and freedom from discrimination are being violated, prompting them to bring their case to the European Court of Human Rights.
A favorable ruling from the court would compel governments to accelerate their climate efforts. The court’s rulings are legally binding on member countries, and non-compliance could result in substantial fines. Furthermore, a favorable decision would guide national courts in handling future climate cases.
The plaintiffs, aged between 11 and 24, are not seeking financial compensation but aim to establish that they have been sufficiently affected by climate change to be considered victims. They argue that governments have a legal duty to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as per the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
Gerry Liston, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, stated, “We have put forward evidence before the court that all of the respondents’ state climate policies are aligned to 3 degrees of warming within the lifetime of the applicants, or in the case of some states, worse than that. No state has put forward evidence to counter that position.” Daniel Calleja Crespo, representing the European Commission, defended the EU’s climate actions, highlighting their commitment to exceeding the obligations of the Paris Agreement.
Scientists warn that the world is falling short of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, with projected temperature increases of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius by 2100 under current emissions reduction plans. The young activists argue that climate change impacts their daily lives, studies, and physical and psychological well-being. Their legal action stems from the devastating wildfires in central Portugal in 2017, where four reside.
As the case proceeds, it remains to be seen how the European Court of Human Rights will decide on this pivotal climate action lawsuit. The outcome of this landmark case could set a precedent for climate litigation worldwide, urging governments to take more robust and immediate measures to combat climate change.