By Paul Davies and Michael Green
Six Portuguese children are raising funds to sue 47 European countries, asserting that their right to life has been threatened because governments have allegedly failed to adequately deal with climate change.
With the support of lawyers from the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), the children will ask nations in the suit to strengthen their emissions reduction policies, and to commit to keeping the majority of their existing fossil fuel reserves “in the ground”. The 47 countries targeted by the legal action are collectively responsible for approximately 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and include Europe’s “major emitters”, such as Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.
The children, who are between 5 and 14 years old, claim to have been directly affected by Portugal’s worst-ever forest fires in Leirria this summer, which resulted in more than 60 fatalities. Climate change is thought to have exacerbated the Iberian Peninsula’s extreme heatwave that extended the wildfire season from two months (July and August) to five months (June to October).
The suit is the latest development in a rising tide of climate ligation across the globe. The Our Children’s Trust case in the US, along with other similar cases in Pakistan, India, and the Netherlands, are evidence that people around the world are increasingly viewing courts as a critical forum for addressing what some perceive to be climate change inaction.
The Portuguese case, however, is unprecedented in two respects. First, GLAN’s legal strategy is to file suit against all 47 countries simultaneously, challenging the general rule that applicants must exhaust domestic remedies within their own states. GLAN will argue that there is an exception to this rule when domestic remedies are not practically available, and that GLAN’s lawyers should therefore be able to bring the case directly in the European Court of Human Rights.
Second, GLAN is seeking to raise funds for their legal action through the crowdfunding platform “CrowdJustice”. As of publication, almost £11,700 had been raised. GLAN will only collect these donations if the case meets the organization’s “all-or-nothing” goal of £20,000. GLAN will need an estimated £350,000 to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
GLAN has until October 25 2017 to reach its initial goal of £20,000 — the first hurdle of many in their pursuit to obtain what would be a landmark decision.
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