Deadly wildfires in Portugal killed dozens in June amid a sweltering European heat wave. Photo: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty Images

By Bobby Magill
27 September 2017

(Climate Liability News) – After more than 60 people died in wildfires that scorched central Portugal this summer, a London nonprofit group plans to file suit against 47 European countries on behalf of six children affected by the fires. The lawsuit aims to force the countries to cut their climate pollution and help prevent future global warming-related disasters.

The Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) launched a crowdfunding campaign on Monday to raise the initial $27,000 of an estimated $471,000 necessary to begin assembling the case, which the group hopes to file in the European Court of Human Rights sometime in 2018 or later. [The campaign accepts donations until 25 October 2017. –Des]

The proposed lawsuit was inspired in part by a similar U.S. suit filed by a group of children in Oregon, Juliana v. United States, which is arguing for a human right to a stable climate and force the U.S. government to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientists say climate change was a factor in exacerbating the Iberian Peninsula’s extreme summer heat wave, which pushed temperatures to 109 degrees F in central Portugal in mid-June. The heat fueled massive wildfires that burned more than 111,000 acres in Portugal’s Pedrógão Grande region—among the worst blazes in the country’s history.

GLAN, representing the six Portuguese children, says European countries are not sufficiently cutting greenhouse gas emissions to cut the risk of global warming-related disasters and protect human life. The group wants to file suit against all 47 signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights simultaneously and wants  the court to establish emissions cuts for each country and require all of them to cut the use of fossil fuels.

“That specific level is to be worked out on the basis of climate science,” said GLAN legal officer Gerry Liston.

The group’s legal strategy is unprecedented.

“The general rule is applicants must exhaust domestic remedies within their own states,” Liston said. “We’ll be arguing that there’s an exception to that rule: You don’t have to exhaust domestic remedies when they’re not practically available to you.” [more]

Another Youth Climate Lawsuit Turns to Crowdfunding in Portugal

(Global Legal Action Network) – The Global Legal Action Network is helping a group of Portuguese children take a major climate change case to the European Court of Human Rights. In June of this year these children watched their district burn as a result of the worst forest fires in their country's history. The fires, which have been linked to climate change, claimed the lives of over 60 people.

Tragedies like this are becoming the new norm because governments in Europe and beyond are failing to make the necessary cuts to their greenhouse gas emissions. We are going to take this issue to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. And instead of taking the case against just one country, we are going to take our case against all of the major emitters which have signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights.

We'll be asking the Court to decide two things: Firstly, that these countries must significantly strengthen their emissions cutting policies and, secondly, that they must commit to keeping most of their existing fossil fuel reserves where they belong – in the ground.

From Portland to Pakistan, citizens have been taking the climate change fight to the courtroom. Innovative legal arguments are being made before judges all over the world in an attempt to compel governments to take tougher action on climate change. And these arguments are winning. In 2015, the Urgenda Foundation and over 800 Dutch citizens succeeded in securing a court order requiring the Netherlands to significantly cut its greenhouse gas emissions – a truly historic decision.

Why do we need to take this case now?

This year we have seen numerous devastating weather events linked to climate change – from the recent hurricanes which destroyed many parts of the Caribbean and the U.S. to the flooding which killed over a thousand people in South Asia. So far global temperatures have risen by just 1ºC. The path we are on could lead us to warming of nearly 5ºC before the end of this century. If urgent action is not taken, all of us will face catastrophic threats to our lives, health and quality of life.

The good news is that it is still possible to avoid catastrophe. But time is very quickly running out. 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.

What would a victory mean?

The countries we are targeting are responsible for about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. They also hold a significant proportion of the world's known fossil fuel reserves. A victory in our case would therefore be nothing less than ground-breaking, particularly because the decision of the Court would be binding across Europe.

Our team

We are building a team of legal and scientific experts from across the globe. Our lead lawyers are from Garden Court Chambers, one of London's leading human rights chambers, and have vast expertise in environmental and climate change law.

The funding we need to raise and why we ask you to donate

Bringing this case will be a huge undertaking. It's not just David versus Goliath. It's David versus many Goliaths and this case will involve our lawyers having to confront the arguments of multiple countries.

We have an initial "all or nothing" target of £20,000. Under CrowdJustice's rules we have to reach the £20,000 figure in order to receive any of the donations made to our crowdfunding campaign. This amount will be crucial to allow us to begin preparing the case and to start gathering the huge amounts of evidence we need. To get to court we estimate that we will eventually need a total of £350,000 - our "stretch target". With that amount of money:

  • Our experts will prepare a detailed report which addresses various issues of relevance to our case. 
  • Our team of lawyers will prepare the legal arguments allowing us to file the case with the Court.
  • The lawyers will then respond to the arguments of each of the defendant countries and travel to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to argue our case. 
  • GLAN will coordinate a Europe-wide advocacy campaign around the case, working with organisations involved in the fight against climate change, to ensure that the case achieves maximum impact.

With your support we can achieve a major legal victory.

Children -v- Governments of Europe & Climate Change



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