Mariana is only eight years old, but she is as young as she is brave, and in her fight for a better and safer future for her generation, she is even taking on german chancellor angela merkel.
Because of climate change, she sued germany and 32 other countries at the european court of human rights (ECHR) in strasbourg on thursday. Co-plaintiffs in this unusual action are two older siblings of the girl from leiria in the center of portugal and three friends. "I am terrified of having to live on a sick planet if nothing is done (about climate change)," mariana confessed in an interview with the german press agency dpa.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for the six young portuguese was the devastating fires of 2017 in their home country, which killed 120 people and destroyed vast areas of forest. "The penny has dropped for me. We have seen the consequences up close, and I have realized how urgently we have to act to stop climate change," says mariana’s sister claudia, who at 21 is the oldest of the group.
The images of the fire, especially in the region of pedrogao grande not far from leiria, went around the world at the time – in june 2017. Motorists trapped by the flames released harrowing live videos. A highway became a death trap for nearly three dozen people, many victims burned beyond recognition in their vehicles. Thousands of animals died miserably, dozens of homes were razed to the ground.
Scientists had confirmed that climate change played a role in the disaster, according to the non-governmental organization global legal action network (GLAN), which assisted the young activists in drafting and filing the lawsuit. But you don’t have to be an expert to see the dire consequences of climate change, says catarina, who has been a close friend of claudia’s since their school days.
"There are extreme and increasingly frequent heat waves. We can see that very clearly in portugal and especially in our region, leiria," says the 20-year-old. She lives close to the coast and has seen for herself how the melting ice in the polar regions is raising sea levels. "There are also more and more people with respiratory diseases. If nothing is done, such diseases will take on terrible dimensions."
There are not only observations, but also figures that speak a clear language. For example, according to GLAN, the heat wave in lisbon in august 2018 led to a record temperature of 44 degrees. And 2020 is expected to be the hottest year since records began.
This trend must also and especially worry children like mariana. If things stay the way they are, forecasts predict a three-degree rise in average global temperatures by 2100. Mariana would be 88 years old. For portugal at this time heat waves are expected with temperatures of over 40 degrees, which could last longer than a month.
Mariana agostinho is all the more angry – and sad at the same time – about the inaction of most adults. Her brother martim (17) is nevertheless optimistic. "Maybe we are like dwarfs fighting against giants", he says. "But we must not forget that the governments only have as much power as we give them."
In their lawsuit, the young portuguese accuse the 27 EU member states as well as great britain, norway, russia, turkey, switzerland and ukraine of exacerbating the climate crisis and thus putting the future of young generations at risk. Aim of the lawsuit: the ecthr should urge the 33 countries to set their national climate targets significantly higher and to reduce the emissions caused by them and their internationally active corporations abroad.
GLAN calls climate lawsuit in strabburg "unprecedented. Normally, a person must sue in a domestic court before bringing a case to the ECHR. But in the case of the fight against transboundary climate change, it is not possible for a group of young people to raise their concerns in 33 different countries and pursue them all the way to their highest national courts. That’s why we’re going down this uncharted path.
The main accusation of the plaintiffs is that there is a lack of a globally agreed approach to sharing the burden of combating climate change. That creates uncertainty about each state’s "fair share" that some countries use to "choose self-serving interpretations". The ecthr should force the EU as a whole to commit to reducing its emissions by at least 65 percent by 2030, she said. This is the only way to achieve the target of global warming of no more than 1.5 degrees compared to the pre-industrial era.
Andre (12) from lisbon, who is part of the climate action group with his sister sofia oliveira (15), has already participated in two climate demos. "It’s such an important and complicated subject that we can’t leave it to the grown-ups," he says – and laughs. You have to "live in a fantasy world not to be afraid". What he would like to say to merkel in person? "I was going to thank her for all the work and effort – but then I was going to tell her that not enough is being done and that we are running out of time."
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