Portuguese Teenagers Take 33 European Governments to Court

Portuguese Teenagers Take 33 European Governments to Court

In Portugal, six young people are taking their country and 32 of the most polluting European governments to court over the climate change risks that threaten their health and future. The case, filed with the European Court of Human Rights in 2020, has been fast-tracked and could see a ruling by next year. The lawsuit is motivated by what these young people describe as unfulfilled climate promises that have done them harm: "Because of their history, we know that they really can't be very trusted," 13-year-old André Oliveira told NPR. "That's why we had to sue them," his 16-year-old sister, Sofia, told NPR, "so we can give them another chance to do the right thing."

Why This Matters

Young people today suffer an "intergenerational inequality" created by climate change: while we all live with the consequences of carbon pollution today, kids today will likely live through three times more climate disasters than their grandparents did, without enjoying anywhere near the benefits of the industrial boom that lifted past generations out of poverty and created a global middle class. The Portuguese young peoples' case -- like Juliana in the US -- rests on the claim that climate disasters violate their fundamental human rights. These cases reflect a broader sentiment among young people worldwide: over half are very worried about climate change and feel betrayed by their governments' inaction.

Youth Climate Lawsuits Around the World

Globally, young people have taken their countries to court over their lack of action on the climate crisis.

Earlier this year, Sofia Oliveira told the Guardian, "I think we might win the case. I hope the case will make things right, that it will make countries lower their emissions and stop using so many fossil fuels. This case is revolutionary -- it has shown that together our voice is strong and can reach the whole world."

  • Peru: Seven Peruvian children sued their government in 2019 over its failure to stop deforestation in the Amazon. They made a similar argument that the climate crisis -- and the role that rapid deforestation in it -- compromised their basic rights to life, water, and health.
  • Germany: In April this year, Germany's highest court ruled that the country must make more detailed, long-term plans to hit its net zero by 2050 targets. The previous plan only the country's 2030, which plaintiffs said was insufficient.