On 2 September 2020, a complaint was filed in the European Court of Human Rights against 33 countries (the EU member states, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the UK). The complaint was filed by 6 Portuguese youths who alleged human rights violations by the respondent countries, in failing to take sufficient action on climate change. The countries were selected by the claimants, as the major carbon emitters within Europe. The claimants sought an order from the court for more ambitious action to be taken by the 33 countries and in particular, for the court to decide what a ‘fair share’ of action would be for individual states, to maintain global temperature warming at a maximum of 1.5°C, as was agreed under the Paris Climate Agreement. Currently, individual states decide what a ‘fair share’ of their efforts will be to maintain warming at 1.5°C, leading to a fragmented approach, with global temperature warming predicted to be 2.4°C by 2030.
In terms of the substantive claim, the claimants relied on alleged breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”), namely article 2 (right to life), article 8 (right to privacy), and article 14 (prohibition of discrimination). Looking at each element in more detail:
- Right to life – the claimants were witnesses to the 2017 fires in Lisbon, which killed 66 and injured over 200. The claimants argue that more deaths will occur, as global warming increases the likelihood of natural disasters.
- ight to privacy – this right has in the past been interpreted as when claimants’ physical and mental wellbeing have been adversely impacted. The claimants in the current case note that in August 2018, Lisbon’s heatwave caused temperatures to soar to 44°C, making it difficult for individuals to exercise, sleep, carry out day to day activities, etc.
- Prohibition on discrimination – the claimants argue that young people will be experiencing the worst effects of climate change, as they will have to bear the brunt of long-term extreme weather.
Within weeks of the case’s filing in September 2020, the Court fast tracked the case and communicated it to the respondent governments. This is an extraordinary move from the Court, as the vast majority of cases are dismissed as being inadmissible without being communicated to respondent states, let alone be fast tracked.
On 14 August 2021, the claimants received the respondent governments’ respective defences. However, on legal advice, the claimants have decided not to make them public. The claimants have until 12 January 2022 to respond to the governments’ defences. As the defence for each government has not yet been published, it is hard to predict what the claimant’s response will be. However, as the Court has already rejected the governments’ request to overturn the Court’s decision to fast-track and to rule the case as inadmissible, it is clear that this case is not something that will easily ‘go away’.