Six children are celebrating after a legal fight they have launched came a step closer. But the case, over the deaths of more than 60 people, still has a way to go before the youngsters will have their day in court.
An unprecedented tragedy
In June 2017, more than 60 people died in forest fires in Portugal; the worst in the country’s history. Around half the people burned to death in their cars as they tried to escape, after a stretch of road became engulfed in flames. But the fires, which happened as Portugal was under a severe heatwave with temperatures exceeding 40°c, have been blamed by experts, in part, on climate change.
So now, a group of Portuguese children is going to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) demanding something be done. They have been crowdfunding to raise £20,000 for the initial legal costs. And on Thursday 19 October, they reached their target, so have upped it to £100,000. Mariana (5), Leonor (8), André (9), Simão (11), Sofia (12), Martim (14), and Cláudia (18) have released a video, explaining why they’re taking the action.
What worries me the most about climate change is the rise in temperatures, which has contributed to the number of fires taking place in our country.
Can Europe help?
The children are being represented by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), a non-profit organisation that identifies and pursues legal actions which challenge injustices for the “disempowered”. And the aims for GLAN and the children’s case are straightforward. They want the ECtHR to force the 47 countries which have signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR [pdf]) to:
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- Significantly strengthen their emissions cutting policies.
- Commit to keeping most of their existing fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
The grounds for the case fall under ECHR legislation. Specifically, that the law requires member states to take “reasonably available measures” to prevent interferences with human rights, or to mitigate those interferences where it is not possible to prevent them completely. GLAN also refers to the convention articles:
- Two – the right to life.
- Three – the prohibition of inhuman degrading treatment.
- Article one of Protocol one – the right to property.
GLAN pointed out to The Canary that the ECHR imposes far greater rules in relation to the effects of climate change than even the Paris Agreement does. So it is on this basis that GLAN and the children are going to Europe’s highest court.
A fight for all of us
GLAN said in a statement for The Canary:
The 47 ECHR states are collectively responsible for nearly one fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. They also hold a similar proportion of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves. A decision will be sought from the ECtHR that the countries being sued must significantly strengthen their emissions cutting policies and commit to keeping the majority of their existing fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Their failure to do so, it will be argued, poses a significant threat to a number of the human rights of the applicants.
The new crowdfunding target of £100,000 would cover legal costs for the children. But it seems a small price to pay for a possible global precedent on governments’ responsibilities around climate change.
– Support the GLAN crowdfunder.
– Join The Canary, so we can keep holding the powerful to account.
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