Guest piece by Gerry Liston of the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) on their recent climate change work

Two weeks ago the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) launched a crowdfunding campaign to begin raising funds for what we hope will be a ground-breaking legal action on climate change. We are helping a group of Portuguese children to take a case straight to the European Court of Human Rights against up to 47 States for their failure to properly tackle climate change.

Many of these children are from the Leiria region of central Portugal where forest fires killed over 60 people in June of this year. The fires broke out after an intense heatwave which saw temperatures in Portugal rise above forty degrees Celsius. In recent days the fires have returned to Leiria, further threatening the lives of those living in the region.

Between the fires in Portugal, the drought-induced famine in East Africa, the recent series of hurricanes which brought devastation to the Caribbean and southern United States and the much under-reported flooding which killed over 1,000 people in South Asia a number of weeks ago, 2017 has provided us with a taste of what is to come if governments across the world do not do far more to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, a taste of what is to come is all these recent events amount to as, even though governments are taking some steps in the right direction, we remain on track for a rise in the global average temperature to 3.6 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. Currently we are at slightly above 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The children we are working with are naturally very concerned for their futures, as indeed are their parents. That is why they are seeking a decision from the European Court of Human Rights that the States party to the European Convention on Human Rights must cut their emissions by an amount consistent with what the climate change science says is necessary to prevent, to the extent possible, the threats posed by climate change to their lives, health and quality of lives. They also want the Court to make a similar finding that these States must commit to keeping a proportion of their fossil fuel reserves in the ground, the exact proportion to be determined in accordance with the climate science.

Decisions of the European Court of Human Rights are binding on the States party to the ECHR so it goes without saying that a favourable decision in this case would be of major significance. To bring the case we have brought on board a top team of barristers from London's Garden Court Chambers which is headed up by Marc Willers QC, one of the leading UK experts on climate change litigation. Incidentally, he is also a member of the Irish bar.

Litigation has so far demonstrated itself as having significant potential as a tool for fighting climate change and cases have been commenced against governments in countries all across the world with a view to forcing them to take stronger action. In the Netherlands, for example, the Urgenda Foundation and over 800 Dutch citizens succeeded in their case against the Dutch government. They secured an order that the latter must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% relative to 1990 levels by the year 2020, a significant increase on the cuts which the government had in fact committed itself to making.

In February 2018, the trial will commence in Oregon in a similar case being taken by a non-profit organisation called Our Children's Trust on behalf of 21 American youths against the Trump Administration. Following a preliminary application by the Trump Administration to dismiss the case, the judge concluded, in dismissing that application, that she had “no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.”

The lawyers involved in both of these cases are generously supporting our case to the European Court of Human Rights which we hope to file by the end of next year.



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