They have called the current emissions target inadequate, as they say it will allow high levels of these harmful greenhouse gases to continue until 2030.
Dubbed the “People’s Climate Case”, the participants hope their action will overturn three EU emission regulation acts that have recently been approved by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.
The 10 families include representatives from Portugal, Germany, France, Italy, Romania and Sweden, as well as Kenya and Fiji.
Within their numbers are young children and representatives from Sweden’s indigenous Sami community, whose livelihoods are at particular risk due to the effects of climate change.
The group has stated that it is already impacting their livelihoods, homes and culture.
Environmental lawyer Roda Verheyen, who is representing the families, said: "Climate change is already an issue for the courts in the European countries and around the world. The plaintiff families are putting their trust in the EU courts and legal system to protect their fundamental rights of life, health, occupation and property which are under threat of climate change.
“The EU courts must now listen to these families and ensure that they are protected."
Specifically, the plaintiffs want the EU to improve on its current emission trading scheme directive, effort sharing regulation and land use, land use change and forestry regulation.
“This case is important because it asks the EU to increase its climate ambition to 2030, in order to take a fair share of the burden required to meet the temperature goal of the Paris agreement and to protect the human rights of European citizens," said Sophie Marjanac, a climate lawyer at the non profit environmental law organisation, ClientEarth.
Europeans in areas like France and Portugal have been struck by heatwaves that have been linked with climate change, which have taken their toll on local farmers in particular.
Maurice Feschet, the grandfather of the French plaintiff family, described how their farm in Provence had lost over 40 per cent of its harvest in six years “due to the impacts of climate change hitting us harder and harder”.
“In European politics, there is a concrete urgency to take a step back and consider the principles of democracy,” he added.
“The EU must now listen to its citizens who are impacted by climate change and implement the necessary measures to protect them.”
Meanwhile developing countries such as Fiji and Kenya have been struck by an increase in extreme weather events like cyclones and droughts, which scientists are able to attribute to climate change with increased confidence.
As an indigenous people of northern Europe whose traditional way of life relies on reindeer herding, the Sami are gravely threatened by a warming climate.
“If we lose the reindeer, the Sami culture will be lost,” explained Sanna Vannar the president of Sami youth association Saminuorra.
“Many of the Sami youth want to be reindeer herders, but they cannot see a future. This is mostly due to the threat of climate change. This must be urgently addressed for the safety of our generation and the next generations.”
The action is supported by Climate Action Network (CAN), an umbrella group of environmental NGOs working to tackle climate change.
“In 2015, as part of the Paris agreement, countries agreed to pursue efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5C. Yet, it is clear that the existing EU 2030 climate target is not enough to respect the commitments taken in the Paris agreement and should be increased,” said CAN director Wendel Trio. This legal action initiated by families is underlining the urgency and the necessity to increase the EU’s 2030 climate target.”
The German NGO Protect the Planet is bearing the costs of the legal case, and scientists from think tank Climate Analytics are providing expertise to clarify how the plaintiffs are affected by climate change and what the EU can do to improve its targets.
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