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European Court Greenlights Portuguese Youth Climate Lawsuit

In a landmark ruling, the European Court of Human Rights has greenlighted a climate lawsuit brought against 33 countries by six Portuguese children and young adults who say those nations must “do better and act correctly” in the fight against the climate crisis.

Ranging in age from eight to 21, the applicants are eyewitnesses to the devastation that the climate crisis is wreaking in their own country, reports NBC News. Many describe personal experiences with the heat waves, drought, and wildfires that have scorched Portugal over the past few years.

“Climate change is a matter that brings me much anxiety and fear, because I don’t know if my generation is going to have the same life that this generation had,” said 12-year-old Lisbonite André Oliveira. “We only have one planet and I like it very much…we have no other place to go.”

Oliveira told NBC the purpose of the lawsuit is to urge countries “to do better and to act correctly,” adding that, even if this case fails, others like i5 will follow.

“More and more people are supporting us,” added his 15-year-old sister Sofia. “Together we are strong and can make the difference.”

That the European court is allowing the case to go forward bodes well for the young Portuguese plaintiffs, said Gerry Liston, a legal officer at Global Legal Action (GLAN), which is supporting the applicants. If the case wins, he told NBC, “it could set an influential precedent for national courts and potentially legally bind the defendant countries to ramp up emissions cuts.”

The lawsuit is one of thousands that “have been filed against governments and companies worldwide in the past few years, producing mixed results,” NBC writes. Last December, “the Netherlands’ Supreme Court ruled in favour of a climate campaign group’s demand that the Dutch government move faster to cut carbon emissions,” while in January, an American court “dismissed a case brought by 21 young people who accused the government of infringing their rights to life and liberty.”

Having been cleared to proceed by the European Court of Human Rights, the Portuguese case can now ask each of the 33 defendant countries—including the UK, Germany, and France—to respond. The governments have until the end of February, “unless a ‘friendly settlement’ is reached before then,” writes NBC.