Six young people from Portugal are fighting for climate justice by taking 32 European countries to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The group argues that states are violating human rights by not taking sufficient action to combat climate change. The case took place on 27th September, three years after it was initially launched in 2020.
The Youth4Climate group comprises André, Catarina, Cláudia, Mariana, Martim and Sofia who are aged between 11 and 24. The six young people have witnessed the impact of climate change already, such as the 2017 Leira wildfires in central Portugal which killed 66 people. You can read more about the case timeline here. The plaintiffs highlighted how climate change will directly impact human rights. The right to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing and self-determination are threatened by fluctuating weather conditions at best, and forced climate migration at worst.
Should the group receive a positive ruling, all of the 32 European governments incorporated into the ECHR would be legally bound to take greater responsibility for mitigating the climate crisis. The court would hold them liable for fines if they failed to comply with directives.
The European case comes after three young people received a positive court ruling in August in Montana, USA. They argued that the failure of the Montana state to properly address the climate contravened their constitutional rights to a “clean and healthful environment.” The case was upheld by the first judicial district court. The Montana court later said it would appeal the case so its longevity is uncertain.
The ECHR and Montana court cases are critical examples of how young people are engaging in the fight for climate mitigation. Whilst direct action initiatives continue to attract young people, the growing status and regularity of legal challenges on behalf of young people signals a shift in the status of climate change. The urgency, determination and persistence with which young people have acted offers a guide for those looking to engage in the fight for climate justice.