🔎 Climate change; European Court of Human Rights
By Sandra Laville
Portuguese schoolchildren from the area struck by the country’s worst forest fires are seeking crowdfunding to sue 47 European countries, alleging that the states’ failure to tackle climate change threatens their right to life.
The children, from the Leiria region of central Portugal, where fires this summer killed more than 60 people and left hundreds injured, are being represented by British barristers who are experts in environmental and climate change law.
Supported by the NGO Global Legal Action Network (Glan), they are seeking an initial £35,000 to mount the case in the European court of human rights.
The crowdfunding bid was published on Monday on the platform CrowdJustice, which has raised millions to help bring citizen-led cases to court.
Lawyers will seek a ruling from the court that the countries being sued must significantly strengthen their emissions reduction policies and commit to keeping the majority of their existing fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
The lead counsel, Marc Willers QC of Garden Court Chambers, said: “This case intends to build on the successes which have been achieved through climate change litigation across the world so far.
“It will be unique because it will be the first case in which multiple governments are brought before a court at the one time in relation to their failure to properly tackle climate change.
“Climate change poses a major and increasingly worsening threat to a number of human rights and governments in Europe are simply not doing enough to address it.”
The children, aged between five and 14, all come from Leiria, which suffered Portugal’s deadliest fires this summer.
AdvertisementSome experts have blamed the increase in forest fires in Europe on climate change.
A 14-year-old who is part of the group taking action said: “Climate change causes many problems, but if I had to name the ones that worry me the most, it would be the sea level rise, which leads to the destruction of shores and infrastructure such as dams, roads and houses, and also the increase in the number of forest fires that we’ve been observing lately – especially this summer, as the fires caused many deaths and left our country in mourning.”
The legal action will target the 47 nations who are the major emitters in Europe – including the UK, Ireland, Germany and France. These 47 were collectively responsible for roughly 15% of global emissions and held a significant proportion of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves, said the Glan director, Dr Gearóid Ó Cuinn.
European court of human rights decisions are binding on these states.
The case is also being taken to raise public awareness about what Glan says are the shortcomings in government policies on climate change.
Ó Cuinn said: “We will work with civil society organisations throughout Europe to use our case to highlight the fact that unless governments urgently take much stronger action to prevent the release of greenhouse gas emissions, it is only a matter of decades before we’ll be witnessing the catastrophic consequences of insufficient action.”
Two years ago a group of Dutch citizens – organised by the NGO Urgenda – successfully sued their government for negligence for knowingly contributing to a breach of the 2C maximum target for global warming.
Three judges ordered the Dutch government to cut its emissions by 25% by 2020, saying their lower targets were unlawful given the scale of the threat posed by climate change.
Published on The Guardian on September 24, 2017.
Human rights and environment
In recent years, the recognition of the links between human rights and the environment has greatly increased. The number and scope of international and domestic laws, judicial decisions, and academic studies on the relationship between human rights and the environment have grown rapidly.
Many States now incorporate a right to a healthy environment in their constitutions. Many questions about the relationship of human rights and the environment remain unresolved, however, and require further examination.
As a result, in March 2012 the Human Rights Council decided to establish a mandate on human rights and the environment, which will (among other tasks) study the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and promote best practices relating to the use of human rights in environmental policymaking.
Mr. John Knox was appointed in August 2012 to a three-year term as the first Independent Expert on human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. His mandate was further extended in March 2015 for another three years as a Special Rapporteur.
The resolution 16/11 adopted by the Human Rights Council on 12th of April 2011 entitled “Human Rights and the environment” requested the Office of the High Commissioner “in consultation with and taking into account the views of States Members of the United Nations, relevant international organizations and intergovernmental bodies, including the United Nations Environment Programme and relevant multilateral environmental agreements, special procedures, treaty bodies and other stakeholders, to conduct, within existing resources, a detailed analytical study on the relationship between human rights and the environment” (para.1).
See also the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes
Human rights and climate change
In its 5th Assessment Report (2014), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) unequivocally confirmed that climate change is real and that human-made greenhouse gas emissions are its primary cause. The report identified the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and natural disasters, rising sea-levels, floods, heat waves, droughts, desertification, water shortages, and the spread of tropical and vector-borne diseases as some of the adverse impacts of climate change. These phenomena directly and indirectly threaten the full and effective enjoyment of a range of human rights by people throughout the world, including the rights to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture and development.