The UK, along with 31 other nations, is currently facing legal action in the European Court of Human Rights due to alleged inadequate climate policies. A group of young people from Portugal is spearheading this significant climate lawsuit, claiming that these countries’ efforts to combat global warming violate their human rights.
Previously, the UK government’s defense hinged on its commitment to climate action, particularly its legally binding target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Kate Hughes, the director of international climate change at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, cited the government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution as evidence of its dedication to addressing climate change. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has revoked several key components of this plan that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially introduced. These include the ban on new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030 and the policy to phase out gas boilers by 2035.
Lawyers representing the group of six young Portuguese claimants will present evidence asserting that the current policies of these 32 countries will lead to a global temperature increase of 3°C within the lifetimes of the plaintiffs. They argue that the governments’ failure to take swift action to reduce emissions infringes upon their clients’ human rights.
The case will take place in front of 17 judges on Wednesday, and if the UK government’s key defense is removed, it might significantly influence the outcome.
Gerry Liston, a legal officer at the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), which is supporting the claimants, emphasized the inadequacy of the UK’s emissions targets and the urgent need to increase ambition rather than backtrack on commitments. Liston also labeled Sunak’s announcement as not only irrational and unethical but also illegal.
The UK government‘s defense contends that it has implemented extensive measures to combat climate change and is not in violation of its alleged obligations. The defense cites the independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) as endorsing the UK’s net-zero target as a world-leading commitment. However, recent policy reversals by the government have put it at odds with the CCC.
Chris Stark, the CEO of the CCC, expressed concerns about the government’s regression on climate policies and its potential to undermine the achievement of legally mandated targets.
The six Portuguese claimants, aged 11 to 24, took action because their experiences during the devastating wildfires in the Leiria region in 2017, which claimed 66 lives and devastated approximately 20,000 hectares of forest, motivated them.They have received global crowdfunding support, amassing over £100,000, and are seeking a binding ruling from the judges to compel these countries to accelerate their emissions reductions—a milestone in climate litigation.