Activism Sooner Rather Than Later

by Courtney Wight '26 on November 9, 2023


Climate activists in Europe are heading to the European Court of Human Rights to plead their case. The six activists from Portugal, ranging in age from 11 to 24, are appealing to the court stating that 32 European countries have failed to properly address concerns regarding climate change and are infringing on their fundamental human rights as a result.

These activists are hoping for a successful ruling after a similar case was raised in Montana. This case was ruled in favor of young climate activists in August. This landmark ruling set a precedent for future cases such as the one recently raised in Europe.

The case in Montana was climate activists against state agencies. The activists claimed that the state was violating their constitutional right to clean air and water by allowing continuous fossil fuel development regardless of the harm it would cause the environment.

The case in Europe has an added caveat since the case hinges on the activists proving that governments have a legal duty to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius in accord with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. The data supports the activists, as the globe is on track to warm two to four degrees Celsius by 2100. 

An additional part of the case is the current impacts of climate change on weather. Climate change is responsible for more frequent and dangerous natural disasters and extreme weather events. Activists plan to use these occasions to show the courts how climate change is impacting their daily life, including their studies, and their mental and physical health. This is especially important in Europe since most European countries do not have air conditioning; most buildings are centuries old. This can lead to problems with heat waves since citizens are not equipped to handle the extreme temperatures. 

The activists decided to start the judiciary process in 2017 after Portugal suffered from wildfires. The extreme weather events have not stopped in Portugal, where it hit 86 degrees Fahrenheit in winter this past year. This is highly unusual since the highest temperatures in a Portugal winter do not exceed 65 degrees Fahrenheit on average. 

This case is the first of its kind to be brought to the European Court of Human Rights. Cases have occurred in both Switzerland and France, but the ruling of this new case would be most impactful because it would apply to all 32 European countries. Activists are hopeful, but a ruling will not be announced for a couple of months. 

These cases are crucial because they will impact regulations regarding warming temperatures. If the court sides with the activists, it will be a big step for controlling climate change as they will have recognized the duty of governments to prioritize their efforts to control climate change.