All around the world, Millennials and Gen Zers are starting to bring lawsuits against their governments challenging the “legality” of years of climate inaction using similar theories as being alleged in the U.S. “kids” climate case pending in the U.S. That case is currently under review by an appeals court in Oregon, which heard arguments two weeks ago on whether it can go forward — the judges were reported to be sympathetic but skeptical because of the novelty of the young plaintiffs’ arguments. A decision in the U.S. case is expected by the end of the summer.
Why This Matters: Young people are the force behind the most impactful social movements, and this one is no exception. But they are not stopping at marching and school strikes, these young people are availing themselves of all the ways of forcing government change, including litigation. These legal actions are coordinated by the organization Our Children’s Trust, which is helping to streamline the cases and ensure the best science and advocacy are brought to bear in each country. They are starting to have successes in several countries, which is good news for the global climate crisis, and according to legal experts, could even have a positive impact on U.S. litigation.
A Few Examples of Active Litigation Globally:
- Colombia: In a landmark decision, the Colombian Court ruled in favor of youths who sued the national government for violating human right by permitting the deforestation of the Amazon. Youths throughout the country stressed the disastrous effect this would have on future generations through increase carbon emissions and threats to health, water and food security. The Court, in this historic ruling, asserted that it was the state’s duty to “protect, conserve, maintain, and restore the forest.”
- The Netherlands: Last October, a Dutch Court of Appeals ruled that the government must do more to combat climate change — the decision, in favor of the Dutch NGO Urgenda, recognized the “grave danger” of climate change and called for the government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to at least 25% lower than 1990 levels, by 2020.
- Canada: Last November, a Quebec-based environmental group called ENvironnement JEUnesse filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all Quebec residents younger than 35, alleging that the Canadian government’s efforts to reduce emissions were insufficient and violate young people’s rights as established by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
- Norway: Norwegian youth are appealing the Oslo District Court’s January denial of their constitutional climate change case to the nation’s highest court.
Similar legal challenges have been filed in Belgium, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, and Switzerland. Michael Burger, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School told Sierra Magazine that “American judges do pay attention to what happens abroad. “Judges who get these [climate change] cases and the clerks who work for them become aware of other cases in the U.S. and around the world,” he said.