Six young Portuguese take 33 countries to European justice for climate inaction

They range in age from 11 to 24 and argue that the forest fires that Portugal has experienced every year since 2017 are a direct result of global warming. They say that they are at risk of contracting health problems because of these fires, that they have already suffered from sleep disorders, allergies, breathing difficulties. They filed a complaint in 2020 with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The hearing will take place on 27 September.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) was seized by six young Portuguese in September 2020. Getty Images - Dusan Stankovic

By: RFI Follow

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These six young Portuguese people, who witnessed devastating forest fires and increasingly severe heat waves, highlight the failure of many European countries to respect their positive obligations under the right to life (Article 2), the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8) of the European Convention on Human Rights. They also refer to the issue from the perspective of the prohibition of ill-treatment (Article 3).

The hearing of their case, which will take place before 22 judges. For the lawyers defending the case, this is excellent news, a historic trial that they call "David vs. Goliath".

GLAN & the 6 youth are preparing for the biggest ever climate case to be heard @ECHR_CEDH
With just 26 days to go, we need your support! Our small team of climate lawyers will be facing the huge, well resourced legal teams of 32 states in court. https://t.co/8ehsB6VMuG pic.twitter.com/LCuCGtcnaE

— Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) (@GLAN_LAW) September 1, 2023

The climate crisis, a human rights crisis

The applicants, for their part, see it as a logical continuation of their fight for the climate. "Together we are stronger," they say. Andre Dos Santos Oliveira is 15 years old and this young Portuguese, asthmatic, wants to believe it. "We are taking this case to European governments because they do not protect us," he told Alice Froussard of RFI. Here in Portugal, we are on the frontline of climate emergencies in Europe, as in many parts of the world. This summer, we have experienced heat waves that have continued to get worse. Sometimes these heat waves prevent us from performing normal tasks, such as leaving the house. And these climate crises are getting worse and worse. It's not just our physical health that is affected: all of this obviously affects our mental health. Because we are anxious about our future. And how not to be worried? Fear, I think, is a perfectly normal reaction to what we see and to the failure of our governments. It is possible to ensure that this crisis does not get completely out of control.... We still have reason for hope. But time is running out."

Portugal is one of the European countries most affected by forest fires. The deadliest was in 2017, in the center of the country. The flames fanned by very strong winds ravaged for five days some 24,000 hectares of pine and eucalyptus hills, killing 63 people, most of them trapped in their vehicles trying to flee.

Read alsoPortugal: more than 100,000 hectares burned by forest fires this summer 2022

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  • Health and medicine
  • Climate change
  • Climate
  • Environment
  • Justice
  • Human rights
  • Portugal