With fear etched in her memory of the 2017 Portugal’s heatwave and the fires that reaped over a hundred lives, Claudia Duarte Agostinho recalls the paralyzing anxiety about her future. Claudia, just 24, together with her younger siblings Martim, 20, and Mariana, 11, are part of a cohort of six young Portuguese plaintiffs who fight for the future.
In a groundbreaking lawsuit, the group has raised the banner against thirty-two governments including all EU members, the UK, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, and Turkey. The governments stand accused of not taking enough action against climate change and failing to sufficiently reduce greenhouse gas emissions to achieve the Paris Agreement target – a globally agreed limit of a 1.5C increase in temperature.
Set to be judged at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, if successful, their legal challenge could carry far-reaching and binding implications for the countries in question. The first hearing is slated for later this Wednesday.
Comprising individuals as young as 11 and up to 24, the plaintiffs assert that the forest fires tormenting Portugal each year since 2017 are, in fact, unmistakable consequences of global warming. They argue that their fundamental human rights including life, privacy, family life, and the right to be free from discrimination are being infringed upon due to governments’ inaction on climate change. Extreme temperatures in Portugal have already restricted their ability to sleep, concentrate, exercise, and even spend time outdoors. Some have grappled with eco-anxiety, allergies, and respiratory conditions including asthma. No financial compensation is being sought.
Claudia shares the emotional burden on the youngest amongst them, Mariana, who gets petrified at the sound of overhead helicopters, a reminder of the deadly fires of 2017. “Why does she need to think about these things? She should be playing with her friends and dancing to TikTok videos instead” Claudia wonders.
The lawsuit calls into question the current policies of the thirty-two governments that render the world at risk of a catastrophic 3C of global warming by this century’s end. The governments have the ability to turn the tide, but chose inaction, claims Gearóid Ó Cuinn, director of Global Legal Action Network.
Once regarded as the harbingers of exciting news, the regular drone of helicopters now paints a grim picture for Claudia. “If we win this case, it would mean that people are listening to us, and that they are as worried as we are. The governments would really have to take measures,” she worries. “It would be amazing for our anxiety, our futures. A lot can follow after that.”
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