Portuguese schoolchildren from the area struck by the country’s worst forest fires are seeking crowdfunding to sue 47 European countries, alleging that the states’ failure to tackle climate change threatens their right to life.
The children are being supported in their bid by the NGO Global Legal Action Network (Glan), the director of which is Irish man Dr Gearóid Ó Cuinn.
The children, from the Leiria region of central Portugal, where fires this summer killed more than 60 peopleand left hundreds injured, are being represented by British barristers who are experts in environmental and climate change law.
They are seeking an initial €39,800 (£35,000) to mount the case in the European court of human rights.
The legal action will target the 47 nations who are the major emitters in Europe – including the UK, Ireland, Germany and France. These 47 were collectively responsible for roughly 15 per cent of global emissions and held a significant proportion of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves, said Dr Ó Cuinn.
European court of human rights decisions are binding on these states.
The crowdfunding bid was published on Monday on the platform CrowdJustice, which has raised millions to help bring citizen-led cases to court.
Lawyers will seek a ruling from the court that the countries being sued must significantly strengthen their emissions reduction policies and commit to keeping the majority of their existing fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
The lead counsel, Marc Willers QC of Garden Court Chambers, said: “This case intends to build on the successes which have been achieved through climate change litigation across the world so far.
“It will be unique because it will be the first case in which multiple governments are brought before a court at the one time in relation to their failure to properly tackle climate change.
“Climate change poses a major and increasingly worsening threat to a number of human rights and governments in Europe are simply not doing enough to address it.”
The children, aged between five and 14, all come from Leiria, which suffered Portugal’s deadliest fires this summer.
Some experts have blamed the increase in forest fires in Europe on climate change.
A 14-year-old who is part of the group taking action said: “Climate change causes many problems, but if I had to name the ones that worry me the most, it would be the sea level rise, which leads to the destruction of shores and infrastructure such as dams, roads and houses, and also the increase in the number of forest fires that we’ve been observing lately – especially this summer, as the fires caused many deaths and left our country in mourning.”
The case is also being taken to raise public awareness about what Glan says are the shortcomings in government policies on climate change.
Dr Ó Cuinn said: “We will work with civil society organisations throughout Europe to use our case to highlight the fact that unless governments urgently take much stronger action to prevent the release of greenhouse gas emissions, it is only a matter of decades before we’ll be witnessing the catastrophic consequences of insufficient action.”
Two years ago a group of Dutch citizens – organised by the NGO Urgenda – successfully sued their government for negligence for knowingly contributing to a breach of the 2 degrees maximum target for global warming.
Three judges ordered the Dutch government to cut its emissions by 25 per cent by 2020, saying their lower targets were unlawful given the scale of the threat posed by climate change.