Hasna Khan

Extreme heat and destructive wildfires killed over 100 people in Portugal in 2017. Claudia Duarte Agostinho (24) recalls the terror that gripped her during those terrifying moments. In addition to wreaking havoc on the countryside, the wildfires increased her anxiety about what lay ahead for her.

Claudia, her brother Martim (20), and her sister Mariana (11) are among six young Portuguese people who have made a bold move forward. They’ve filed a landmark case against 32 governments, including the entire EU, the United Kingdom, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, and Turkey. Their contention is simple: these nations have failed to take significant climate action and have not decreased greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to meet the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The young applicants, ranging in age from 11 to 24, make a compelling argument. They claim that the annual forest fires that have plagued Portugal since 2017 are a direct result of global warming. Given that governments are unwilling to combat climate change, their fundamental human rights, such as the right to life, privacy, family life, and equality, are being violated. Heatwaves have already had a huge influence on their lives, prompting them to stay indoors and interfering with sleep and concentration. Some people are anxious about the environment, have allergies, or have respiratory issues.

Moreover, none of these young individuals are requesting monetary compensation. Instead, they wish for a more healthy and sustainable planet. Mariana succinctly expresses her motivation: “I want a green world without pollution; I want to be healthy.”

The legal team representing these climate activists claims that the current practices of the world’s 32 governments are leading to catastrophic global warming of 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Governments have opted not to intervene, even though this would have disastrous repercussions for humanity.

Governments respond to the case by saying that the plaintiffs have not proven that they’ve directly suffered as a result of climate change or Portuguese wildfires. They argue that climate change poses no immediate threat to human life or health and that climate policy is outside the purview of the ECHR.

This legal battle is indeed a “David vs. Goliath case,” as aptly described by Gearóid Ó Cuinn, director of Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), supporting the applications. There is a demand for structural change to ensure a brighter future for everybody.

If the case is successful, the 32 states will be legally required to increase climate action, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and phase out fossil fuels. With a decision expected in nine to 18 months, it would also guide domestic courts dealing with climate change-related disputes. The case’s first hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

It is a sobering reminder that solving climate change urgently is of utmost importance as we see this historic court battle play out. With conviction and an unrelenting dedication to secure a sustainable future for all of us, these brave young warriors take on Goliath as the world watches in awe.