Save the Children intervenes in climate change court case brought by young people against 33 countries

London, 11 May 2021 – Save the Children has officially intervened in a ground-breaking climate change case before the European Court of Human Rights as a third-party.

Stemming from the deadly 2017 wildfires in Portugal, four children and two young adults from the fire-hit region have taken 33 countries to court for not doing enough to fight the climate crisis. They argue that the countries are failing to take adequate measures to keep global warming below 1.5°C and are therefore failing to meet commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement. They also argue that the inaction of the 33 countries threatens their rights to life and to a healthy, protected environment, as guaranteed under European law.

The case was filed in September 2020 – the first climate change action brought before the European Court of Human Rights. If successful, the countries are legally bound to take more action to address the climate crisis. The Court granted the case a priority status due to the importance and urgency of the issues raised.

Save the Children’s status as a third-party intervener means the organisation will offer its views before the court to highlight the impact of climate change on children and on their right to safety and a prosperous future. In its recently submitted third-party intervention to the Court, the organisation emphasised that:

  • Climate change is a crisis across generations. Without sufficient action children’s survival, development and education are at a grave risk.
  • The rights of children must be protected immediately, given the systemic threat posed by climate change and its deep impact on the most vulnerable and marginalised children.
  • The best interests of children should be at the centre of all climate change decision-making.
  • Insufficient action today will profoundly impact children’s futures, so they must be listened to. Although children have contributed the least to the climate crisis, they will suffer the most from the failure of governments to take urgent action.

Save the Children is being advised on a pro-bono basis by the law firm Hausfeld & Co. LLP, alongside barristers Tim Otty QC and Ravi Mehta of Blackstone Chambers and Emma-Louise Fenelon of 1 Crown Office Row.

17-year-old Razvan from Romania, who is not involved in the case but concerned about climate change, told Save the Children:

“Climate change affects me in many ways. In my country, the season cycle is severely affected, like we see winter climate in March and April and summer climate in October. Also, in the big cities, the air slowly becomes unbreathable and it can affect our bodies.”

The consequences of the world’s collective failure to turn the tide on climate change are clear, Save the Children said, as average global temperatures have already surpassed 1°C above pre-industrial levels.

Ulrika Cilliers, Global Director of Policy and Advocacy at Save the Children, said:

“We are proud to be a part of this landmark case as a third-party intervener, to help the Court rule on the climate issues raised by these children and young adults. It is essential that children can voice their concerns and take action, as they are on the frontlines of the climate crisis. This is truly a child rights crisis and we see the power of children leading the way on climate change.

“Despite the catastrophic implications of the climate crisis on children’s rights, and the growing global movement of children calling for ambitious climate action, children and their rights are conspicuously absent from climate discussions, commitments, and policies.”

“The world must recognize the legitimacy and power of children’s voices and their leadership in the climate movement. Governments need to establish child-friendly methods to facilitate children’s role in climate policy making, and their suggestions must be acted upon. This is especially true for the most marginalised and vulnerable children.”

David Lawne, Partner at Hausfeld, added:

“We believe that this intervention, from an organisation that is a leading global voice for children, will be a valuable resource for the Court.”

As the case proceeds and in addition to the Youth Summit in Milan, Save the Children urges governments to ensure children have a strong voice at upcoming climate events, including the COP26 in Glasgow later this year.


Media enquiries

Faiz Jamil – Global Media Manager, Save the Children,
Silvia Van den Bruel – Marketing & BD Director, Hausfeld & Co. LLP,

About the European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights is an international court based in Strasbourg, France.  It rules on applications alleging violations of civil and political rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, such as the application brought by the four Portuguese children and two young adults. Its judgments are binding on the countries concerned and have led governments to change their legislation and practices in a wide range of areas.

About Save the Children’s intervention

The European Court of Human Rights can allow third parties to intervene in its cases. This allows parties with relevant experience and expertise to assist the Court in its decision making. An intervener is neither an applicant nor a respondent in the application. In this case, the Court has granted Save the Children’s request to provide written observations about the relationship between climate change and children’s rights.

Save the Children is being advised on a pro-bono basis by the law firm Hausfeld & Co. LLP, alongside barristers Tim Otty QC and Ravi Mehta of Blackstone Chambers and Emma-Louise Fenelon of 1 Crown Office Row.

The case is Duarte Agostinho & 5 Others v Portugal & 32 Others.
Save the Children’s intervention in full.

About Save the Children and the climate crisis 

Through its work with children in over 100 countries, Save the Children is well placed to draw attention to how climate change affects children across the world. Children’s lives now and in the future are under threat from the climate crisis. Here’s why:

  • Children are more likely to be killed or injured by extreme weather than adults;
  • Children are more likely to get sick as a result of the climate crisis through disease or lack of food and clean water;
  • Children are more vulnerable to extreme temperatures and heatwaves as their bodies are still developing;
  • Children’s learning and development is disrupted when extreme weather damages or destroys schools;
  • The climate crisis will increase existing inequalities for girls, children with disabilities, children living in poverty, refugee, migrant and displaced children and indigenous children;
  • A lack of safety nets in countries on the frontline of the climate crisis, leave children and their families vulnerable to deeper poverty;
  • The climate crisis is increasingly forcing families to migrate – exposing children, especially girls, to extreme poverty, violence and harm;
  • If we don’t address the climate crisis now, we risk undoing years of progress made towards realising the rights of children; and
  • The climate crisis is set to worsen over children’s lifetime - creating challenges for their future lives and livelihoods as well as across generations.

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