Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks with other child petitioners from twelve countries around the world who presented a landmark complaint to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to protest the lack of government action on the climate crisis during a press conference in New York, US, on September 23, 2019. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
Young people face a "fundamentally altered world" that threatens their human rights and safety unless governments take effective action to curb climate change, lawyers for Greta Thunberg and other child climate activists said on Tuesday.
The arguments came in a filing after Brazil, France and Germany - three respondents in a legal complaint brought in September to the Committee on the Rights of the Child at the United Nations - said charges against them lacked jurisdiction and were unsubstantiated.
The young people's complaint accuses Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey - all substantial emitters of planet-heating gases - of knowing about the impact of their greenhouse gas emissions on the climate and doing nothing to mitigate it.
Such a failure represents a "direct, imminent and foreseeable risk to (the) health and well-being" of the young plaintiffs, the suit noted.
Thunberg and 15 other petitioners from 12 countries, aged between eight and 17, filed the lawsuit in New York last year, saying the polluting countries were undermining their rights.
"World leaders have failed to keep what they promised. They promised to protect our rights and they have not done that," Thunberg said then, as the petitioners presented their case on the sidelines of the UN Secretary-General's climate summit.
Michael Hausfeld, one of their lawyers, said the response by Brazil, France and Germany argued in part that no one nation was exclusively responsible for climate change, so no single country should be held individually responsible.
But the countries named provided no "justifiable explanation of why they're failing" to reduce their own emissions in line with warnings from scientists about global warming, he said.
He said bringing a legal challenge on human rights grounds was the "correct" way to try to drive swifter emissions cuts, nothing "there are rights and obligations involved" under international child protection agreements.
"This is not a matter of discretion that nations can ignore as they so choose. This is a matter of an obligation to which they are accountable," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.
Hausfeld said the Committee on the Rights of the Child would now consider whether to uphold the objections of Brazil, France and Germany and dismiss the lawsuit, or move ahead and ask for a full briefing on the issues.
A decision is possible later in the year, the lawyers said.
Argentina and Turkey, the other two countries named in the complaint, have yet to submit a response.
The world's biggest emitters of climate-changing gases, China and the United States, are not among the 46 countries that have signed a protocol allowing children to seek redress under the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.