In a historic case, six young activists from Portugal took 32 European governments to court. The accusation: these countries have violated human rights by failing to adequately address climate change. This is the first climate change case filed with the European Court of Human Rights.
The activists are between eleven and twenty-four years old, and many of them cite personal experiences with catastrophic weather events — such as the wildfires that killed more than one hundred people in central Portugal in 2017 — as their reason for bringing this case to court. Other climate disasters the activists have voiced concern about in their hometowns include extreme temperatures and receding coastlines.
The activists have presented the health and psychological challenges that they’ve faced due to climate change. Some of them have developed respiratory problems such as asthma. They also find themselves unable to carry out ordinary activities during the heatwaves that are becoming more common.
An increasing number of activists are turning to the courts to compel change. According to the London School of Economics, the number of climate change-related cases has more than doubled since 2015.
In late September, the youth activists made their first appearance in court. It could take up to eighteen months for the court to reach a verdict in this case. If the young activists win, the governments involved could be made to adopt measures to significantly reduce carbon emissions and phase out fossil fuels or face significant fines.