Juliana v. U.S.
In this landmark case, 21 youths claim the U.S. government violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property and has failed to protect essential public trust resources by inadequate action on climate change. The Children’s Climate lawsuit heads to trial as the court rejects the Trump administration actions to block the case.
“Exercising my ‘reasoned judgement,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” - U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken
This case, which began in 2015, has inspired children across the planet to do the same.
In Belgium, a climate change case against authorities is expected to proceed to trial this year after three years of procedural disputes. Similarly in India, a hearing is expected soon on the case of a ten-year-old plaintiff, Ridhima Pandey, who last year filed an affidavit with India’s National Green Tribunal arguing that the government has failed to implement its emissions reductions policies and adhere to its environmental laws. In 2016, a seven-year-old Pakistani girl sued the government for its environmental failures, and the case has been allowed to proceed. Norwegian youth are appealing the Oslo District Court’s January denial of their constitutional climate change case to the nation’s highest court. And lawyers in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom are working with Our Children’s Trust on filing actions there in the near future. In addition, the trust is working on suits in nine states including Florida.
The Supreme Court of Justice of Colombia ruled in favor of the youth plaintiffs, who argued that deforestation in the Amazon and increasing temperature threatened their constitutionally-guaranteed rights to a healthy environment, life, health, food and water. Notably, the high court also found that the Colombian Amazon forest has legal personhood and that, as such, the government has a duty to protect the forest. This is an amazing ruling- giving legal status to a forest!
It seems to me that the only recourse left to children, who have little political capital because they cannot vote, is the courts. Our legislative branch of government is too corrupted by corporate interests and influence to change an entrenched economic system based on fossil fuels, agribusiness and the petro-chemical industry. When the ends justify the means, ethics and principles are measured by self-interest rather than community interests and the interests of future generations. Our culture’s focus on constant economic growth has shown to be fruitful for only a select few. Whether it’s dealing with carbon and climate change or depletion of natural resources and wild habitat or running out of clean freshwater or the destruction of topsoil, environmental matters that support human life on the planet should take precedence over corporate profits and the wealth-making capacity of our politicians. Economy not in balance with ecology ignores that our natural resources (the commons) belong to all Americans and should be held in posterity for future generations of Americans. Our children will hold our feet to the fire if we continue to ignore their future with short-term thinking and simplified solutions to complex problems.