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European court says young people’s climate case to be examined by top-tier panel

Activists want to hold European governments accountable for their allegedly inadequate efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions (Alamy/PA)
Activists want to hold European governments accountable for their allegedly inadequate efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions (Alamy/PA)

The European Court of Human Rights has said that a complaint against 33 countries filed by six young Portuguese climate activists will be examined by the tribunal’s top panel of judges, a move reflecting the case’s legal significance.

The activists, three of whom are minors, turned to the court almost two years ago in an effort to hold European governments accountable for their allegedly inadequate efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The countries named in the complaint include the 27 member nations of the European Union plus the UK, Switzerland, Norway, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.

The Strasbourg-based court said the case, which had already received priority status, would be bumped up to the 17-member Grand Chamber.

The court noted that the panel examines cases that present “a serious question” affecting the interpretation of the European Convention of Human Rights, or additional protocols, or “where the resolution of a question before the Chamber might have a result inconsistent with a judgment previously delivered by the court”.

One of the plaintiffs, 17-year-old Sofia Oliveira, said the decision to have the case heard by the Grand Chamber was encouraging.

“Now we hope that these judges will hear our case as soon as possible and that they will make the European governments take the urgent measures necessary to protect us,” she said.

The activists are supported by the Global Legal Action Network, an international non-profit organisation that challenges human rights violations.

Its director, Gearoid O Cuinn, noted that of the 22 cases pending before the Grand Chamber, three are now related to climate change.

“The fact that the court has referred this case, along with two other climate cases, to the Grand Chamber is an extremely significant development which shows how serious a human rights issue it considers climate change to be,” Mr O Cuinn said.

“By the end of the year, I’m hopeful we will see all of Europe’s major emitters on trial for failing to act properly on the climate crisis in what will be a hearing of unprecedented scale and consequence.”