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"People's Climate Case": Families Sue EU Demanding More Ambitious Action to Combat Climate Crisis

"If it is recognized by the court that climate protection is a human rights issue, then climate protection can be activated in the courts of all other jurisdictions in the world."

Mr. Carvalho

Last year, all of the Carvalho family's forested land in Portugal burned in a massive wild fire. (Photo: CAN)

In what's being called the People's Climate Case, families from eight different countries have come together to sue European Union (EU) institutions for failing to adequately address the global climate crisis that's threatening their livelihoods.

With support from the Climate Action Network (CAN), ten families from Fiji, France, Germany, Italy, Kenya, Portugal, Romania, and Saami Youth Association Sáminuorra in Sweden have filed suit against the European parliament and the council of the EU in the Luxembourg-based General Court, which, as one plaintiff put it, "citizens can turn to in order to achieve something in the name of everyone's interest."

In a video developed to raise awareness about the case, plaintiffs share how anthropogenic global warming and the extreme weather it intensifies is already jeopardizing their abilities to survive.

Maurice Feschet, a 72-year-old lavender farmer from France, describes how droughts have wipe out large swaths of his fields in recent years. In the case, he is joined by organic farmers in Italy, reindeer herders from Sweden, and hotel and restaurant owners from Germany whose property faces growing risks from rising seas.


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Rather than seeking compensation for what they've lost, the families want to force EU institutions to be more ambitious with efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, transition to renewable energy, and prevent future warming. They are specifically focusing on the EU's goal to reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels—which the families say are inadequate.

"Climate targets are no longer about diplomacy, the economy, or climate models. It is really about the protection of people, of very concrete people: their land, their heritage, their property, their culture," said Roda Verheyen, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers. "That is what this case is about and makes clear to the world."

With the case, Verheyen also hopes to set a global precedent. "If it is recognized by the court that climate protection is a human rights issue," she said, "then climate protection can be activated in the courts of all other jurisdictions in the world."

Ildebrando Conceição's family has been beekeeping in Portugal for decades, but as the bees' work is disrupted by climate variations, they produce less honey, and threaten his family's income.

"We started this legal case," Conceição said, "because this is a problem that isn't just national: it requires that the EU does something more to counteract this situation that affects our lives and jeopardizes the future of younger generations."

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