Young people bring landmark climate case before European Court of Human Rights

Published by Kayle Crosson on

3 September 2020 

A group of young people have filed a case with the European Court of Human Rights asking the body to hold 33 countries, including Ireland, accountable for fuelling the climate crisis. 

The case, brought forward by six Portuguese young people with the support of the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), alleges that the governments being sued are “categorically failing” to enact the urgent emissions cuts required to safeguard the futures of the young applicants. 

The 33 countries that the case has filed against include the 27 European Union Member States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. 

The case is the most recent one of its kind to launch on the European continent, following the recent landmark rulings requiring governments to revise their climate policies in the Netherlands and Ireland

There is “so little time left to stop this” 

Catarina Mota, one of the young adults behind the case, expressed fear around record-breaking heat waves that “are only just beginning” of the unfolding climate crisis that, left unchecked, will continue to worsen. 

“With so little time left to stop this, we must do everything we can to force governments to properly protect us. This is why I’m bringing this case”, she said. 

The lead counsel in the case, Marc Willers QC of London’s Garden Court Chambers, stressed that the human rights arguments have been the central focus of recent climate change cases brought in domestic European courts.

“But in many of those cases, the courts have upheld clearly inadequate climate change policies as being compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. 

One of our aims in bringing this case is to encourage domestic courts to take decisions that force European governments into taking the action needed to address the climate emergency,” he said. 

The case is an attempt by Europeans to “force their governments to protect their rights and to ensure better climate protection,” according to Director of Climate Action Network (Europe) Wendel Trio.

“It is time for the EU to keep its promises to build back better and provide a better future for all Europeans. EU leaders can only gain the confidence of their citizens by increasing the EU’s 2030 climate target to at least 65% emission cuts as required by science and equity principles,” he added. 

The case launched today is not to be confused with the People’s Climate Case, which is ongoing before the Court of Justice of the European Union. 

However, both cases argue that human rights law, whether under the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights or the European Convention on Human Rights, requires the drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in line with what the science calls for. 

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