Austrian children sue government for failing to protect them from climate crisis

A dozen children have filed a lawsuit against the Austrian government asking it to take tougher action against climate change as a protection of their constitutional rights, the latest such litigation amid a growing tide of lawsuits against governments and companies worldwide.

The children, as young as five years old, filed the lawsuit in Austria‘s top court on Tuesday seeking to force the government to take stronger climate action.

A lawyer for the group said the case submitted to the Constitutional Court is modelled on a similar lawsuit in Germany that prompted the government there to set new targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions two years ago.

Their lawyer Michaela Kroemer says Austria's climate law from 2011 doesn't sufficiently protect the plaintiffs, aged five to 16, from the life-threatening consequences of global warming.

Specifically, she said the children's right to “generational justice” — guaranteed in the Austrian constitution — is breached by the Alpine nation's climate law.

Ms Kroemer said the lawsuit is backed by the youth climate group Fridays for Future — which was inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg — and financially supported through philanthropic donations.

Their lawsuit is one of the thousands filed against governments and companies in recent years with mixed results. Such litigation is increasingly centred around protecting human rights in the face of growing, multi-faceted impacts from the climate crisis and extreme weather events.

In 2020 a group of Portuguese children and young adults filed a similar complaint against 33 European governments, arguing that climate change jeopardises their futures and governments need to be held responsible.

A group of retired Swiss women also sued their government at Europe’s top rights court for “failing to protect them from worsening heatwaves”.

And a German environmental group sued the Berlin government for failing to meet climate targets that pave the way for reaching climate neutrality by 2045.

Their case was based on various reports by researchers which state that wealthier nations that have historically benefitted by emitting planet-heating greenhouse gases are not doing enough to mitigate the crisis.

Additional reporting by agencies