The 'normal kids' taking countries to court over climate
AFP | Lisbon, Portugal
The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com
Claudia Agostinho decided she had to do something when she saw her home "covered in ashes" from murderous forest fires that ravaged central Portugal.
The 24-year-old nurse is one of six young people aged between 11 and 24 who are taking 32 countries to the European Court of Human Rights for their inaction on climate.
"It was scary," recalled Agostinho, who was a teenager when the fires that killed more than 100 people in 2017 came to her door.
"It was that fear and anxiety that pushed me to act," she said, insisting that the wildfires that ravaged large swathes of Portugal every year are a direct result of climate change.
Another one of the six, Sofia Oliveira, said the endlessly repeating disasters make her want to "flee this world".
"The court has a lot of power and we want to have our voice heard," said the 18-year-old from the suburbs of Lisbon.
"We want to push governments to act."
The milestone case brought by the six young Portuguese, which will be heard by the court in Strasbourg on September 27, accuses 32 European countries of not doing enough to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
"There has been cases taken by young people about climate change in other courts before, but this is the first to be heard by the European Court of Human rights related to the rights of young people," said Gerry Liston, a lawyer with the British-based Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), which is representing them.
- 'Solutions exist' -
And the stakes could not be higher. If they win, the court's ruling would be "legally binding" on the governments, Liston added.
At the beginning, it was lawyer and GLAN volunteer Rita Mota who gave Claudia Agostinho the idea to go to court.
She was then joined by her brother Martim, 20, her sister Mariana, 11, and their neighbour Catarina Mota, 23 (who is no relation to Rita). Later Sofia Oliveira and her brother Andre, 15, whose father is a friend of Rita Mota's, added their names.
"They are normal kids, they were not at all recruited. It was them who told me that they wanted to do something to stop this happening again," Mota told AFP.
This all began before Greta Thunberg's school strikes and the huge young people's climate marches, she said.
It all started slowly. "GLAN is a small organisation. We had to crowdfund" and help give the young people media training, said Mota.
But with time the group began to grow more confident and filed their complaint to the court in 2020. "The fact that they were doing something tangible and concrete I think helped diminish the feeling of impotence they had," she added.
"We wanted to show that solutions exist, that we can still change things and that we shouldn't give up," said Oliveira, who is proud that their fight has been backed by Thunberg and Hollywood star Leonardo Di Caprio.
- 'Right to a healthy life' -
"If we win our case, governments that don't hold to their promises will be sanctioned -- because people's lives are at risk," her younger brother Andre added.
Because he has asthma, the 15-year-old is not allowed to do sport when it gets hot. "It is getting worse and worse and we are more and more afraid.
"It will be even worse for the generation of our children and we cannot allow that," said the young high school student, who became aware of the climate crisis early from talking to his parents, who are biology graduates.
Claudia Agostinho, the oldest of the plaintiffs, said that coming from a rural area, where attachment to family is important, she had been brought up to believe that you have a responsibility to the children you wish to bring into the world.
"We have to have measures to guarantee the right to a healthy life, which is the most basic of all human rights -- and that is all we are asking of governments. It's the basics," she said.