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Families from 8 countries sue EU over climate change

Thursday, May 24, 2018

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PARIS, France (AFP) — Ten families from Europe, Kenya, and Fiji have filed suit against the European Union, seeking to limit global warming's threats to their homes and livelihoods, their lawyers said Thursday.

They insist the bloc must do more to limit climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions, and point to drought, glacier melt, sea level rise and flooding that will only worsen as temperatures rise.

The plaintiffs before the EU's top court, the European Court of Justice are "families living near the coast, families owning forests in Portugal, families in the mountains that see the glaciers melting, families in the north that are affected by permafrost melting," their lawer Roda Verheyen told AFP.

They "are already being impacted by climate change, already incurring damage... and they are saying: 'EU, you have to do what you can to protect us because otherwise our damage will be catastrophical'," Verheyen said.

The claim, nicknamed the "People's Climate Case", is the first of its kind brought against the EU, the group's lawyers said.

Previously, suits were filed against individual governments.

In Paris in 2015, the world's nations agreed to limit average global warming to under two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

This would be achieved by limiting emissions of planet-warming gases emitted by burning fossil fuels coal, oil and gas.

Under the pact, nations submitted voluntary emissions-cutting pledges. But these are forecast to still leave the planet on track for warming of 3.0 C — a level scientists warn will entail more frequent super-storms, longer droughts and an island-swallowing rise in the sea level.

The average global temperature has already climbed about 1.0 C, researchers said.

The EU has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.

This goal is inadequate to protect the plaintiffs "fundamental rights such as the right to life, health, property, and occupation," said the Climate Action Network (CAN) lobby group backing the court bid.

Petru Vlad, a 50-year-old father of three who farms 100 sheep and a dozen cows in the mountains of central Romania, complains about dwindling water supplies due to changing rainfall patterns. "There is no more water," he told AFP.

And the vegetation his herd feeds on has also changed. "Now there is only grass with tough roots better able to survive the drought," he said.

"Through this case, I am not seeking to be compensated, but mainly to alert the authorities in the EU of the situation," added Armando Carvalho, a Portuguese forester who saw all his trees destroyed by wildfires in 2017.

Wildfires are predicted to become more commonplace as forest cover dries out in an ever warmer world.

"The EU carries responsibility for these issues as a world leader," insisted Carvalho.

The 30-odd plaintiffs want the Luxembourg-based court to compel the European Parliament and EU's executive council of ministers to significantly upgrade a number of emissions-curbing directives. They also want the court to rule that climate change is a human rights issue, and that the EU "is responsible to protect their rights, also the rights of today's children and future generations," said the CAN.

The plaintiffs include a family from the Italian Alps which has seen ice-based tourism dwindle due to warmer winters, one from a German island disappearing under rising ocean waters, and a group of Sweden's indigenous Sami herders whose reindeer increasingly struggle to find food.

Also in their midst is a family from Kenya affected by heatwaves and desertification, and Fijians plagued by seasonal cyclones and declining fisheries due to coral bleaching.

"Climate change is felt everywhere in the world, there's a global responsibility," CAN representative Wendel Trio said of the decision to include non-European plaintiffs.

It could be several months before the court announces whether it will hear the case, officially submitted on Wednesday.

German NGO Protect the Planet is carrying the costs of the application.

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