Six young Portuguese activists and lawyers have appeared before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in a landmark case that could force 32 countries to ramp up their action against climate change. The activists, aged between 12 and 22, claim that the countries – EU nations plus the UK, Switzerland, Norway, Russia, Turkey – are violating their human rights by failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. They argue that the current policies of these countries are putting their lives and futures at risk, as well as threatening the environment and biodiversity.
The case, which was filed in September 2020, is the first of its kind to be heard by the ECHR, the highest human rights court in Europe. The court granted the case priority status in November 2020, recognizing its importance and urgency. The hearing, which took place on Wednesday, September 27, 2023, was attended by the six activists and their legal team, as well as representatives from the 32 countries. The activists asked the 17-judge Grand Chamber to hold the countries accountable for their allegedly inadequate efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to order them to take more ambitious and effective measures to tackle the climate crisis.
The activists are supported by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), a non-governmental organization that provides legal assistance to human rights cases around the world. GLAN’s director, Gearóid Ó Cuinn, said that the case was “historic” and that it could have “far-reaching implications” for climate litigation and policy. He added that the activists were “inspiring” and that they were “fighting for their generation and those that will follow”.
The ECHR is expected to deliver its judgment on the case in the coming months. If the court rules in favor of the activists, it could set a precedent for other climate cases and compel the 32 countries to adopt more stringent and binding climate targets. The activists hope that their case will inspire other young people to take legal action against their governments and demand more action on climate change.