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Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and Others

In a historic legal battle that has garnered global attention, the case of Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and Others has become a symbol of the climate action movement’s push for accountability and justice. This lawsuit, filed in September 2020, represents a landmark moment in the fight against climate change, with significant implications for governments, human rights, and the future of our planet.

This topic of “Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and Others” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

Background

The Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and Others case originated from Portugal’s devastating 2017 wildfires in Leiria, which resulted in 66 deaths and the loss of over 20,000 hectares of forests. These tragic events prompted six Portuguese youth, aged 11 to 24, to take legal action against their own government and 32 European governments, including the UK, Russia, and Turkey, in a bid to hold them accountable for their role in the climate crisis.

Plaintiffs’ Arguments

Governments’ Failure in Climate Action

The plaintiffs argue that governments have failed to take sufficient climate action, violating their duty to protect the environment and, by extension, human rights. They contend that these failures disproportionately harm young people, effectively discriminating against them in matters of climate policy.

Violation of Fundamental Rights

The lawsuit asserts that the climate crisis amounts to a violation of fundamental rights as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. These rights include the right to life, freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to privacy and family life, and freedom from discrimination. The plaintiffs argue that climate change endangers these rights and that governments have a legal obligation to address the crisis.

European Nations’ Responsibility

European nations are accused of faltering in their emissions reduction goals and surpassing their carbon budgets as agreed upon in the Paris Agreement. The expected global heating rise to 3°C, as projected by the plaintiffs, underscores the urgency for action. The lawsuit demands that governments escalate their emissions reductions, align their policies with scientific evidence, cut fossil fuel production, and clean up global supply chains.

Significance

A Unique Case

Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and Others is unique in its scale, with numerous countries defending themselves in court against climate-related allegations. This sets a precedent for holding governments accountable for their climate actions or lack thereof.

Current Statistics

The case draws attention to the pressing issue of carbon emissions. As of now, the European Union emits an average of 7.2 tons of CO2 per capita, significantly higher than the world average of 6.3 tons per capita. This contrast highlights the need for more ambitious climate policies.

UNICEF and Child Rights

UNICEF views the climate crisis as a child rights crisis, as the effects of climate change disproportionately affect children. This includes water scarcity, food insecurity, physical trauma, and the spread of diseases. The UN Committee on Child Rights has expressed concern over the impact of climate change on children’s well-being.

The Legal Battlefield

Where

The case is being heard at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, with jurisdiction over the 47 member states of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Other Pending Cases

  • Verein Klimaseniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland: Over 2,000 women are taking legal action against Switzerland in a climate-related case.
  • Carême v. France: A former mayor is challenging France’s response to the climate crisis in a separate legal proceeding.

Global Youth-Led Climate Litigation

Youth Emotions on Climate Change

The emotional impact of climate change on young people is profound, with feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, powerlessness, and guilt driving their activism.

Growing Global Movement

As of December 2022, there have been 2,180 climate-related cases filed in 65 countries, with 34 cases specifically initiated by or on behalf of individuals under the age of 25. This youth-driven climate litigation movement seeks not only to hold governments and corporations accountable but also to reform climate governance.

Types of Climate Litigation

Climate litigation takes various forms, including cases related to human rights in international law and national constitutions, non-enforcement of climate-related laws and policies at the domestic level, advocating against greenwashing, corporate liability for climate harms, and addressing failures to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

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