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On September 2, 2020, six Portuguese youth filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights against 33 countries. The complaint alleges that the respondents have violated human rights by failing to take sufficient action on climate change, and seeks an order requiring them to take more ambitious action.

The complaint relies on Articles 2, 8, and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protect the right to life, right to privacy, and right to not experience discrimination. The complainants claim that their right to life is threatened by the effects of climate change in Portugal such as forest fires; that their right to privacy includes their physical and mental wellbeing, which is threatened by heatwaves that force them to spend more time indoors; and that as young people, they stand to experience the worst effects of climate change.

The case is brought against the Member States of the Council of Europe (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden) as well as Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. The complainants allege that the respondents have fallen short of their human rights obligations by failing to agree to emissions reductions that will keep temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as envisioned by the Paris Agreement.

On November 30, 2020, The European Court of Human Rights fast-tracked and communicated the case to 33 defendant countries, requiring them to respond by the end of February 2021. According to the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), who are supporting the case, only a tiny minority of cases before the Court are fast-tracked and communicated.

On February 4, 2021, the Court rejected a motion by the defendant governments asking the Court to overturn its fast-tracking decision. The governments had asked the court to overturn priority treatment of the case and to hear arguments only on the admissibility of the case. The Court sent a letter to the parties rejecting these motions and gave the defendants until May 27, 2021 to submit a defense on both admissibility and the merits of the case.

The Court also granted until May 6, 2021 third party interventions. Among other seven third-party intervention, on May 5, 2021, Amnesty International intervened in the case and submitted her written observations to the European Court of Human Rights. The submission supports the claimants' position, providing legal arguments to the Court to show that international law requires states to not harm, and to not allow companies within their jurisdiction to harm, the human rights of people outside their borders.

On May 19, 2021 a new intervention was made by the European Commission submitted her written observations to the European Court of Human Rights. Noting the pronounced impact of environmental degradation and climate change on human rights, the Commissioner argues that international environmental and children’s rights law instruments should play a significant role in defining the scope of states’ obligation to prevent human rights violations caused by environmental harm. The Commission bases its defense of EU policy in the field of environmental protection on sound legal reasoning and science-based evidence. The term ‘climate emergency’ expresses the political will to fulfill the obligations under the Paris Agreement. The Commissioner concludes that “the increasing number of climate change-related applications provide the Court with a unique opportunity to continue to forge the legal path towards a more complete implementation of the Convention and to offer real-life protection to individuals affected by environmental degradation and climate change.”

On August 14, 2021, the claimants received the respondent governments’ respective defenses. However, on legal advice, the claimants have decided not to make them public. The claimants have until January 12, 2022 to respond to the governments’ defenses.

On June 30, 2022, the Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights relinquished jurisdiction in favor of the Grand Chamber. The case is now going to be examined by the ECtHR's Grand Chamber of 17 judges on account of the fact that the case raises a serious question affecting the interpretation of the Convention (Art 30 ECHR).

At Issue: Youth filed human rights complaint against 33 governments.