Climate change, September of protests all over the world

Hundreds of demonstrations to protect the environment in 54 countries, while the trend of climate justice is growing

Climate protesters have once again made themselves heard with hundreds of protests in 54 countries. Since mid-September, a series of demonstrations have taken place to protect the environment and against political and banking institutions, guilty of underestimating the climate crisis.

Last September 17, protesters organized a New York
a march to demand a stop to the use of fossil fuels right during the United Nations General Assembly. 15% of the demonstrators were taking part in a demonstration for the first time and the march was made up mostly of women, as explained by American University sociologist Dana Fisher, who studies environmental movements and interviewed some participants who defined themselves as “sad and angry” for how institutions are managing the climate crisis.

The protests continued on September 18, when over 100 protesters were arrested outside the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, after clamoring for central banks and financial regulators to tighten rules on investing in fossil fuels. Eren Ileri, a policy advocate at Stop the Money Pipeline, said the Fed’s actions do not reflect the urgency of the climate crisis: “We have five years to end the fossil fuel industry. We are really talking about a huge change in the survivability of our civilization in the next 10 years. I don’t see a better actor than financial regulators to do what is needed”.

The protest, organized by Climate Defenders, New York Communities for Change (NYCC), Oil and Gas Action Network and Planet over Profit, follows what happened in Malmö, Sweden, where Greta Thunberg and other activists from the Reclaim the Future group blocked the road for trucks carrying oil into the city’s port before being forcibly removed by police. The same port city, in July, was the scene of another protest by the Reclaim the Future group which led to a new trial for Greta, accused of resisting her arrest. And the protests continued in other states.

In The Hague, the force of a water cannon was needed to extinguish the protests of Extinction Rebellion militants, who blocked a busy road, as was done in Milan in the same days.

In Vienna, the organizers of the 14th climate strike of the Fridays for Future collective said they had involved 20,000 participants in the march on September 15th where demonstrators raised signs to the sky asking for increase taxes on CO2 emissions and an end to meat consumption, among the main causes of climate change. In Rome the protests were rather weak in number but not in the intentions of the few participants who, gathered under the Colosseum, asked politicians to intervene seriously to protect the planet and people.

“We want to ask the Italian government and international leaders to stop all new investments in fossil fuels, which are the primary cause of climate change. This summer Italy was divided in two, between devastating fires and terrible floods,” said Alessio Petronelli, spokesperson for the Italian association Rinascimento Green.

On September 17, hundreds of climate activists also marched in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh and in Berlin, where protesters sprayed orange and yellow paint on the columns of the Brandenburg Gate. Actions and protests that divide public opinion between those in favor and those against, and which in September were the result of an internationally coordinated plan.

“Thousands of people around the world are returning to the streets to demand that we stop what is killing us. We need to think about who will be living on our planet in thirty, forty, fifty years. And negative responses are not contemplated,” Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said during the New York rally.

Climate justice is also fought in the courts

Street protests, however, are not the only tool used by protesters who increasingly rely on the courts.

The first great success is represented by Held v. case Montana, proposed by 16 young girls and boys against the State of Montana (USA). Among the agents, even a 5 year old who struggles to breathe because the smoke from the fires has aggravated his asthma. On August 14, 2023, Judge Kathy Seeley ruled that she does not evaluate the environmental impacts of mining and fossil fuel projects.”violates the right to a clean and healthy environment”, guaranteed by the Montana Constitution.

In particular, the court declared unconstitutional two recent laws that would have prevented state agencies from assessing the climate effects of fossil fuel projects. “Although the defendants knew that the young plaintiffs live in dangerous climate conditions that create an unreasonable risk of harm, continue to take active action to exacerbate the climate crisis”, we read again in the sentence.

After the success achieved by young people in the USA, six Portuguese young people, aged between 11 and 24, sued 32 countries (the 27 member states of the European Union plus the United Kingdom, Norway, Russia, Switzerland and Turkey), advancing a climate justice case before the European Court of Human Rights. In the Strasbourg court the six young activists will argue that the policies adopted by these countries to tackle global warming are inadequate and in violation of their human rights obligations.

Both causes are emblematic of a trend that is gradually establishing itself. From 2017 to 2022, the total number of climate change lawsuits more than doubled, going from 884 lawsuits identified in 2017 to 2,180 reached in 2022. This was revealed by the Global Climate Litigation Report: 2023 Status Review published by Unep (the United Nations program for the environment) from the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

In this sense, institutions are also taking steps towards young people. The new Directive on air quality approved by the EU Parliament, in fact, requires action in a decisive and transparent manner to protect the health of European citizens, including through legal means. For this reason, MEPs propose a strengthened right to compensation in case of violation of the new climate regulations.

Specifically, according to the text approved by the European Parliament, “Member States shall ensure that natural persons whose health suffers damage as a result of a breach of this Directive […] due to an omission, a decision, an act or the delay in a decision or act by the competent authorities are entitled to compensation under this Article”.

The text also provides that States must authorize non-governmental organizations that promote the protection of human health or the environment to represent natural persons and to bring class actions to obtain compensation. It is clear that the commitment of the institutions is concrete and aims to provide the most concrete protection to citizens damaged by environmental pollution.

According to the new Directive on air quality approved by the EP, the right to enhanced compensation must also be based on presumption of causality: “If a claim for compensation is supported by evidence, including relevant scientific data, from which it can be presumed that the violation referred to in paragraph 1 caused the harm suffered by that person or contributed to its occurrence, the causal link between the violation and the occurrence of the damage”, write the MEPs.

Climate litigation can represent a constructive bridge between institutions and new generations, who welcome the idea of ​​being able to collaborate with the courts to promote climate justice. Good news, because the fight against climate change is a fight that needs everyone.