Momentum Builds for Court Action on Climate Change

Momentum Builds for Court Action on Climate Change

First, 900 citizens in the Netherlands took their country to court demanding stronger action on climate change. They won, and the government is appealing.

Another win came in Washington State, when teenagers asked for science-based targets on addressing climate change. This was The Children’s Trust first win after filing climate lawsuits in every state.

More Lawsuits

In August, The Children’s Trust filed against the US federal government, with climate scientist Dr. James Hansen joining them as a plaintiff.

The federal government is violating their constitutional rights to life and liberty by continuing to use and allow development of fossil fuels, even though it has been aware for decades that this leads to climate change. They want the court to order President Obama to immediately implement a national plan that lowers atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to 350 ppm by 2100.

Pedersen Glacier, Alaska:Climate Change Pedersen Glacier Alaska

Next up for a climate lawsuit is surprisingly, Pakistan.

After a farmer took the country to court, charging his "fundamental rights" are being violated because of the government’s lack of action on climate change, the judge ordered Pakistan to create a "climate council" to uphold the national climate policy that was approved in 2012, reports The Guardian. The "climate council" must consist of representatives from various ministries and civil society, headed by an environmental lawyer. They have to report back to the judges on progress made. 

Why did a farmer instigate this? Rising temperatures are both increasing droughts and deadly floods, making it increasingly difficult to farm. 

Enter Judges?

At a recent conference, "Climate Change & the Law," senior judges and lawyers from around the world gathered to discuss their role in abating climate change.  

Law Professor Philippe Sands (University College, London) argued for the UN’s International Court of Justice to finally put the climate debate to rest. 

"One of the most important things an international court could do – in my view it is probably the single most important thing it could do – is to settle the scientific dispute."

By issuing a finding that climate change is a "fact" – that climate change is real and caused by humans, once and for all – it would put an end to "denial", make further lawsuits easier, and could be used to propel governments to take the action that’s necessary. 

The UN General Assembly should pass a resolution calling on the court to make an advisory ruling on the responsibilities countries have in avoid dangerous temperature rise. The court could also consider whether meeting the science-based target of 2C warming should be their legal obligation.

Back in the US

"Will you engage in aggressive litigation against the fossil fuel industry’s conspiracy of climate denial, as the Clinton administration did against the tobacco industry?" asks RL Miller, president of Climate Hawks Vote, which raises funds to support candidates that will take strong action on climate. 

He wants candidates to pledge they will treat fossil fuel companies as President Clinton handled the tobacco industry. In 1999, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against major American tobacco companies, alleging they conspired to deliberately mislead the public about the health impacts of smoking. In 2006, the court found the tobacco companies guilty of fraud, conspiracy, and racketeering, Miller points out, and the same is true today against the fossil fuel industry.

It has deliberately conspired to mislead the public about the impacts of human-caused climate change, by pour millions of dollars into politicians’ campaigns who deny the science and would proactively work to prevent climate action.

"Evidence is overwhelming that Exxon in particular … knew about climate change in the ’70s and ’80s, but then engaged in a deliberate effort to cover up, confuse, and obfuscate the science because of the impact on its business model," says Miller. "Climate change has already harmed Americans in ways too numerous to list; the companies that caused climate change, and caused the cover-up, should be held responsible."

Read our article, Big Carbon & Big Tobacco, Same Path to Court.

In advance of December’s UN Climate Summit, the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Defense of Life was held in Bolivia over the past few days. 7000 people from over 40 countries were there and released a 12 point Declaración de Tiquipaya, which will be presented at the summit, COP21.

They are calling for an international tribunal that has "a binding legal capacity to prevent, prosecute and punish states that pollute and cause climate change by action or omission, or commit crimes and climatic and environmental crimes that violate the rights of Mother Earth and humanity."

In yet another move, lawyers are joining forces to make ecocide – destruction of ecosystems – an international crime against peace.

"The creation of a legal duty of care towards Mother Earth and her non-human inhabitants would represent a revolution in our legal system, which sees nature as property," they say.

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