Saturday 7th October 2023.
The world is heading for a turning point – slowly, in slow-motion nearly. Every year things are becoming a bit hotter, every year there is a little less rain. Then there’s rain once more, all of a sudden, all at once and in huge quantities. Fertile soil, so important for agriculture, is flushed away. What remains is debris, stones, rocks, waste. In between the rare periods of rain, the industrial forests made up of eucalyptus and other species are burning, igniting in the process native forests, houses, cars, and so on, with some of the forest fires and inundations claiming many mortal victims. Then there are the storms, tornadoes and hurricanes. In 2021, the EU saw 45% of world-wide emissions, i.e. 1.65 gigatons of CO2 blown into the atmosphere. These are the facts, I guess we’re agreed on that?
This is about six young people from the district of Leiria in Portugal. This time it’s not about the firefighters on land and the rescuers in their yellow firefighting aircraft in the sky, working extra time to maintain the countryside inhabitable, saving houses, people and animals. Following forest fires the houses are often left standing like islands in a sea of black ash. The pilots are the heroes on our way to climate disaster. Humankind is fighting back, here and there – and yet they are only part of the nature they reckon to be entitled to subdue. Then – all of a sudden – six adolescents enter the public limelight.
Every drought is the result and responsibility of humankind. Dried-out river beds and springs falling dry are due to climate change through burning coal, petrol, diesel, gas and so on. And the emissions are carrying on their merry way. Nearly every other human is still driving a vehicle with a motor powered by petrol or diesel. There are now just under five billion cars on global roads. Madness? It’s certainly increasing the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere, which is slowly continuing to heat up. The weather, a highly sensitive construction maintaining a balance of heat and cold, regular winds, sea currents including the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Stream, is experiencing rising temperatures of the water in the oceans and the air. From now on, the atmosphere is increasingly following the laws of the chaos principle.
In this precarious situation, six young people aged between 11 and 24 from Leiria and Lisbon (Portugal) make their way, accompanied by their London lawyers, to the European Court of Human Rights (EGMR) in Strasbourg (France) and take 33 European states, including Portugal, Germany, Great Britain, amongst many others, to court in the name of climate justice. Wednesday 27 September sees the first hearing of the plaintiffs’ case, brought by GLAN, a British-Irish law firm (https://glanlaw.org), representing the girls and boys pro bono and a first reaction of the defendants, with the states’ legal advisers trying to have the case thrown out. Then the deliberations start for real. If you have just under five hours to spare, you could do worse than following the entire first day at court online, as the High Court of Human Rights sessions are always transparent, with a recording of the deliberations provided:
At stake is something very tangible: extreme weather events, with heatwaves, storms, drought, rain and inundations, and of course forest fires, which have become reality (not only) in Portugal, since as far back as 2017. „We cannot keep living as we would like to, we feel restricted in our human rights,“ say André, Sófia, Martim, Mariana, Claudia and Marina. The case is based on a 42-page report by renowned scientist Prof Dr Carl-Friedrich Schleussner and his colleagues working for the international „Climate Analytics“ institute (https://climateanalytics.org/), headquartered in Berlin with offices in New York, Lomé and Perth, which outlines a world at the edge of the abyss.
The court case, which was filed as far back as 2020, has finally been accepted by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. This is a surprise. It means that the presiding judge, Irishwoman Siofra O’Leary (2015 to 2024) and the 18 other judges are giving the issue of climate change its due priority and the importance that the plaintiffs need, and with it maximum attention.
Should climate change be met with the increased journalistic and political interest roused by other issues, such as the war in Ukraine, the Corona pandemic, and many others, maybe the world might become a little better, at least less hot, and finally making the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 reality. ECO123 keeps following this issue closely, and will keep reporting on this case. We invite you, too, to stay tuned.