An 11-year-old Portuguese girl sat in the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on Wednesday to face 86 lawyers from 32 countries in the world’s biggest court against climate change. Mariana Agostinio, along with her brother, sister and cousins, were two rows behind the 17 human rights judges.
A few meters away, teams of black lawyers from across Europe argued why countries shouldn’t do more to fight global warming.
Agostinio rose as the justices, led by Court President Siofra O’Leary, filed in to take their seats. O’Leary addressed the packed courtroom: “This case is about Articles 2, 3, 18 and 14. [del Convenio Europeo de Derechos Humanos] As for the impact of climate change … causing heat waves and wildfires that affect the lives and health of plaintiffs.”
Outside the Strasbourg court, the six young Portuguese received the support of activists from around the world who held banners reading: “You are heroes, be strong” and “Love and courage”.
A group of women traveled from Switzerland to support the youth. They were also before human rights judges earlier this year, demanding that their country take more action against global warming.
Rosmarie Weidler-Walt was holding a painting from Basel. Agostinio sent for him when he learned of his affair. “He drew it when I was eight years old. We are here to help them. “We are older women who are also affected by climate change and we are showing our support.
Agostinho and his five co-appellants allege that European countries are violating their human rights by failing to take adequate measures against global warming.
Between the ages of 11 and 24, they were asked to file the lawsuit after a forest fire in the Leira region of Portugal in 2017 killed 66 people. After a summer of wildfires across Europe, they argue that 32 countries’ policies are inadequate.
They claim that governments’ inaction violates their human rights: their right to life, their right not to suffer inhuman or degrading treatment, their right to privacy and family life, and their right not to be discriminated against. They are trying to get judges to issue a binding ruling that would force countries to quickly increase emissions cuts.
Alison Macdonald KC, barrister for the six young claimants, said: “This case is about young people. It is these people who are paying the price for the failure of states to confront the climate emergency. “It’s about the damage they will experience throughout their lives if states don’t take their responsibility.”
The countries agreed to a joint response. The United Kingdom was the first to intervene to reject the claim, arguing on behalf of all nations that it should be struck out by the Court of Human Rights as outside its jurisdiction.
Sudhanshu Swaroop KC, on behalf of the United Kingdom, said: “States fully understand the seriousness of the fight against climate change.”
But he said that by bringing the case to the European Court of Justice, national courts had lost the opportunity to express themselves and national governments to form a consensus. “The Claimants seek to impose far-reaching obligations on the Respondent States with profound social and economic consequences… There is no consensus among the States and they have not discussed it in their national parliaments.”
He argued that international agreements already existed within the framework of the Paris Agreement, and imposing another parallel regime on countries would undermine it.
But McDonald said the countries’ responses were similar to saying the problem was too big, too complex, too global, and that the court should look elsewhere. “Respondents say that human rights have reached the end of the road. But they are wrong,” he said.
He said the multilateral response to the climate crisis had a material impact on young people, and they had the right to make a case against all nations. MacDonald said young people face a future of unbearable heat unless countries take more action. Current policies mean the world faces 3°C of warming in its lifetime.
The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, told the court that he was intervening in the case because of the impact of the climate crisis on young people. “There is no doubt that climate change is a planetary threat to human rights and human existence,” he said. “Climate change is having a devastating impact on human life for all of us, especially children and young people. This limits many children to a difficult life. It is critical that young people affected by climate change are heard and have access to justice… Time is of the essence; “Climate Change Outpaces Government Action.”
The legal case is one of three that have been heard by human rights judges this year. Wydler-Wälti and her fellow pensioners said in March that their government’s “woefully inadequate” efforts to combat global warming were violating their human rights. They say inaction puts them at risk of dying during heat waves.
In another case, the French mayor, Damien Carré, took action against his government’s inaction in the fight against climate degradation.
But Portugal’s case is the biggest because it involves 32 European countries and argues that all of them must take action to adequately address global warming.
Claudia Agostinio, 24, Mariana’s sister, said before the trial that she felt fear during the 2017 fire and continued to do so.
Mariana is still scared when she hears the helicopters that remind her of the terrible fire. “I think it’s incredible that Mariana is involved in this,” Claudia said. “But it’s also very worrying. Why should you think about these things? “He should have been playing with his friends.”
O’Leary said at the hearing that the justices would rule on all three climate cases at the same time. The decision is expected in a few months.
The participants are 27 EU members (Germany, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Denmark, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands , Poland, Portugal, Great Britain, Czech Republic, Romania and Sweden), as well as Norway, Russia, Switzerland and Turkey.
Source: El Diario