Portuguese children afflicted by forest fires are raising funds to sue European countries, accusing them of failing to deal with climate change and endangering their lives.
Portugal’s worst ever forest fires this summer killed more than 60 people and injured hundreds. The disaster directly affected the plaintiffs, aged between five and 14, in the central region of Leiria.
The six school children, who are represented by British environmental lawyers and supported by the NGO Global Legal Action Network, are aiming to raise an initial £20,000 to build evidence for the case, and a total of £350,000 to take their case to the European court of human rights in Strasbourg.
Crowdfunding efforts have been launched on the CrowdJustice platform. At the time of writing almost £6,000 had been raised.
“The good news is that it is still possible to avoid catastrophe. But time is very quickly running out,” the webpage reads. “We are taking this case to make sure that the countries signed up to the ECHR make much greater cuts to their emissions – and do so in time.”
The lawyers are seeking a court ruling for the 47 European countries which demands they tackle emission reduction and commit to keeping most of their existing fossil fuel reserves in the ground. The court ruling would be binding.
Countries include the UK, Ireland, France and Germany - all of the major emitters which have signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights – and who are responsible for about 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The lead counsel, Marc Willers QC of Garden Court Chamber, told The Guardian that the lawsuit would be the first ever to bring multiple governments to court at the same time regarding climate change.
A 14-year-old, one of the plaintiffs, told the newspaper: “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 case is not the first time a group managed to sue the government over climate change. In 2015 more than 800 Dutch citizens, aided by NGO Urgenda, sued their government for negligence for knowingly contributing to a breach of its global warming target.
The Dutch government was ordered to cut its emissions by a quarter within five years.
Increasing numbers of young people are proactively tackling climate change in the courts.
A group of children in Seattle were also allowed last year to pursue their case that Washington State and others were failing to protect them from climate change, and a nine-year-old girl in India filed her case this April against the government for not taking ambitious action on climate change.
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