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PEOPLE’S CLIMATE CASE: EU taken to Court for failing to impose a robust emission reduction plan

A Carpathian shepherd together with other families from Europe and outside are taking the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union to the European General Court for allowing high level of emissions until 2030 and failing to protect the citizens with the existing inadequate 2030 climate target.

“Year by year, says the Romanian plaintiff, Petru Vlad, the temperatures are increasing. There is no longer enough water for our cattle and sheep. I have to take my cattle from 700m altitude to 1400m for decent grass to graze, but especially for water. But I cannot go any further up with our herds, because above 2000m there is only the sky.

Some say it is divine punishment, others blame it on pollution. However, what I can tell you, as a simple peasant with no higher education, is that it is not my fault and that  needs to be fixed. And this is why I demand action: not money, but protection.”

Information related to the upward shift of vegetation in the mountains, though non-scientific, lies with the pastoral communities, with shepherds that make a living herding the sheep or cattle on the mountain grazing lands. Carpathian shepherds have to take the cattle from lower altitudes towards higher ones.

From 1,400 meters (4,600 ft.) […] we have to take them to 1,600 (5,250 ft.) or even 1,800 (5,900 ft.),” says Vlad Petru, a Romanian shepherd in the Transylvanian Alps. The higher pastures became richer in grass in the last two decades. “Yes, richer, but there is water there. And the climate is cooler; the heat here is too much,” says the shepherd.

Dry thistle “has climbed the mountain” in the last 20 years, Petru complains. It used to be lower, merely in the plough lands, he adds. He also observed for 17 years a retreat of the snowcaps on the summits of Retezat, in the Southern Carpathians, and the spruce line gaining altitude, but losing the lower altitude areas to the expansion of the beech forests. Other shepherds confirm it. Moreover, some wild cherry trees and plum trees in the high orchards blossom and ripen half a month earlier, apparently influencing bee keeping.


Plaintiffs’ families, including young children, whose livelihoods are and will be put at risk due to the impacts of climate change in Europe and outside, file a climate lawsuit against the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. The complaint addressed to the European General Court asserts that the EU’s existing 2030 climate target to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030, as compared to 1990 levels, is inadequate with respect to the real need to prevent dangerous climate change and not enough to protect their fundamental rights of life, health, occupation and property.

Armando Carvalho “fixing” his property after the fires in Portugal, 2017

The plaintiffs claim that this reduction target is too low, considering the requirements of higher rank EU and international law. In the application, they underline that the EU has the legal duty to not cause harm and to protect fundamental rights. However, by allowing further emissions and by not doing its best according to its potential, EU is not protecting their fundamental rights. They ask the court to rule that climate change is a human rights issue and the EU is responsible to protect their rights, also the rights of today’s children and future generations.

The plaintiff families whose living conditions represent major hotspots of climate change effects are:

parents living on small islands off the German North Sea coast whose health, property and occupational opportunities (such as farming and tourism services) are and will be harmed by sea level rise and storm surges which reach higher areas on land due to the higher sea levels

children and their parents living in Southern France and Southern Portugal whose health, property and occupational opportunities (such as farming) are harmed by heat waves and droughts

children and their parents living in the Italian Alps whose property and occupational opportunities (such as touristic services) suffer from the absence of snow and ice

children and their parents living in the Romanian Carpathians whose livelihoods and traditional occupation (such as farming and herding) are jeopardized by higher temperatures and the lack of water

children and their parents living in  Northern Kenya whose health and education are harmed by heat waves, droughts and desertification

➢     children and their parents living in Fiji who are similarly threatened, in particular also due to current changes in the marine environment (coral bleaching) and an increase in frequency and intensity of storm events.

➢     Saami Youth Association in Sweden, Sáminuorra, who already observes how the reindeer are negatively affected by warmer winters and summers.

Young plaintiff from the Sami group in Sweden


These families are accompanied by a broad range of groups, lawyers and scientists who firmly believe that the EU can and must be more ambitious regarding its 2030 climate target. These families are represented by German law professor Prof. Gerd Winter, Hamburg based environmental lawyer Roda Verheyen and London based barrister Hugo Leith. The scientists from the scientific think tank Climate Analytics provide interdisciplinary scientific background to this legal case to provide clear evidence on how the families are impacted by climate change and to show what is doable to further reduce emissions far beyond the current EU’s climate target of at least 40% reduction compared to 1990 emissions by 2030. The German NGO, Protect the Planet, is bearing all the costs related to the legal case to ensure that the families have a decent chance to pursue their action and to exercise their legal und human rights. Europe’s largest NGO coalition working on climate and energy issues, with over 150 member organisations in more than 30 European countries, representing over 1700 NGOs, CAN Europe is supporting this courageous action of plaintiff families and recognises the urgency to act for protecting their fundamental rights.

Armando Carvalho who lost their tree plantation during the forest fires in 2017, mentioned: “On 15 October 2017, the occurrence of a unique and abnormal meteorological event coincided with the surge of a megafire spreading at the highest rate, affecting my family’s properties and assets. Taking into account my forestry knowledge and experience of fire-fighting during those days, aligned with my conscience and citizenship values, I had to take an active role in this legal case, as I’m aware that it is up to the EU to lead the way and act ambitiously to reverse what’s happening in terms of the impacts of climate change in its territory.”

Roba Guyo, Kenyan plaintiff, added: “We face more and more extreme heat in our region. This threatens our lives on several levels. Water is missing for herding and drinking – most importantly, my children’s health is in danger. They suffer because of these extreme heatwaves that we have been facing for some years now. If the situation doesn’t improve and we continue like this, we are hopeless.”

Italian plaintiff, Giorgio Elter, from Valle d’Aosta

The grandfather of the French plaintiff family, Maurice Feschet, added: “44% in 6 years: this is the concrete loss of lavender harvest we are faced with in Provence due to the impacts of climate change hitting us harder and harder. In European politics, there is a real urgency to take a step back and reconsider the principles of democracy.  The EU must now listen to its citizens who are impacted by climate change, and implement the necessary measures to protect them.”

The German plaintiffs, Recktenwald family, also explain why they have started this case: “ This legal case is not only about our family and the current situation, but about the future of all of us. What is happening here on our island and in Northern Germany is happening everywhere around the world. We are particularly aware of climate change because we are living in and with nature.”

Finally, the Italian plaintiff, Giorgio Elter, from the alpine area of Cogne, Aosta, said: “We cannot remain silent to the impacts of climate change which are putting the future of our children in danger. this legal action is very important to raise awareness among our decision makers and supranational institutions on the need to take more radical actions and measures to stop these impacts before they become irreversible and it is too late for all of us.”

Groups across Europe have already been calling for higher 2030 climate targets to keep temperature rise within the 1.5°C limit set in the Paris Agreement.

They underline the importance of this lawsuit in terms of reminding us of the urgency of climate action and the importance of the 1.5°C objective for the survival of communities and ecosystems worldwide.

“Climate change is already an issue for the courts in the European countries and around the world,” closes Roda Verheyen, the lawyer of the families. The plaintiff families “are putting their trust in the EU Courts and legal system to protect their fundamental rights of life, health, occupation and property which are under threat of climate change. The EU courts must now listen these families and ensure that they are protected.”

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