- Explores and develops market-based solutions.
We provide strategic legal services to youth from a wide array of backgrounds through a global legal campaign to secure the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate for all present and future generations. We support these young people with legal representation and targeted media, education, and public engagement efforts to support the legal actions. Our legal work – grounded in constitutional, public trust, human rights laws and the laws of nature – aims to secure systemic and science-based climate recovery planning and policies at federal, state, and global levels, including science-based Climate Recovery Plans that will reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations to below 350 parts per million before the year 2100: the scientific prescription for climate stabilization.
Thanks to the sustaining investment of the Alex C. Walker Foundation, Our Children’s Trust continues to advance critical efforts to secure the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate. We assess our progress based on the progress of the youth-led legal actions we support, as well as on the nature of media coverage about, and public and student engagement with, our science based climate mitigation legal efforts. The Alex C. Walker Foundation’s support has helped us to make great progress this year as well, on all of these fronts.
As we prepare for the significant court decisions described below, and continue distribution of a national curriculum centered on Juliana v. U.S., we are pleased to offer this brief update on all of our efforts to enforce governments’ constitutional and public trust obligations to achieve our ultimate goal of reducing concentrations of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere from levels now over 415 parts per million (ppm), to safe levels under 350 ppm, by the year 2100.
Juliana v. U.S.: The Landmark Climate Lawsuit Brought in the U.S. Federal Courts by 21 Young Americans against the U.S. Government: As you know, Our Children’s Trust supports the 21 young climate advocates in Juliana v. United States: the ground-breaking constitutional climate recovery lawsuit seeking a transformative, systemic, science-based, National Climate Plan that will achieve the above referenced scientific prescription for climate stabilization.
Historic Constitutional Climate Rulings in Youths’ Favor: You also know that in 2016, the U.S. District Court ruled resoundingly in favor of the Juliana youth plaintiffs, ruling for the first time in history, that the U.S. Constitution secures the fundamental right to a climate system capable of sustaining life; and that the youths’ case should proceed to trial on the question whether the U.S. government violated that and other fundamental and constitutional rights.
Divided Ninth Circuit Determines Children’s Only Remedy is at the Ballot Box: Following those historic rulings in the youths’ favor from the U.S. District Court, a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reviewed those rulings and issued a divided two-to-one decision. Importantly, all three judges ruled that the children had demonstrated particularized harms from the climate crisis, and that those harms were caused by the U.S. government’s knowing perpetuation of fossil fuels despite knowledge of the “catastrophic climate” consequences to youth and potential for “environmental apocalypse.” This established the first two of three elements necessary for the youth to establish standing to have their case heard at trial (harm and causation). However, the two judges in the majority “reluctantly” ruled that the children’s case could not proceed to trial based on the third element of causation (redressability) due to their erroneous belief that the only judicial remedy sought by the youth was a Climate Recovery Plan (which it is not) and also because they thought, without evidence, that such a Climate Recovery Plan would be too “complex” for the court to oversee.
By sharp contrast, the dissenting judge vigorously supported the youth’s position that that courts regularly order governments to create complex plans to redress constitutional violations (just as the youth ask the courts to do in this case), and that the courts thereafter very competently oversee those plans. The dissenting judge reasoned that though a remedial plan may be complex as it may be in this case, that fact is not sufficient legal grounds for the court to abandon its constitutional authority to order and enforce such a plan. The dissenting judge argued that abandoning that authority would be to “throw up their hands” in face of the existential crisis acknowledged by the majority. Importantly, the dissenting judge relied on a long line of U.S. Supreme Court precedent to show that the requested remedy was well within the authority of the federal judiciary to order for constitutional violations.
The dissenting judge found in favor of the children, and would have advanced their case to trial, just as the U.S. District Court did. However, the two judges in the majority ruled that the case should not proceed to trial, and “reluctantly” told the plaintiffs that their only recourse, “on the eve of destruction,” was at the ballot box. Paradoxically, since many of the youth plaintiffs are minors and too young to vote, most of them do not have the very recourse to the ballot box the court told them to exercise.
As a result, on March 3, 2020, the youth petitioned for an “en banc” review of that 2-1 decision by a newly comprised 11-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit. On March 12, ten powerful “friend of the court” briefs were filed in support of the youth’s request for the review, by Members of Congress, children’s rights, constitutional, public health, environmental, legal and civil rights groups and experts from across the country. A new 11 judge panel would review the case anew, and could reverse the previous 2-1 decision of the court. If en banc review is not granted, our next step would likely be to seek a writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court, upon consultation with legal experts and approval of our youth clients.
In summary, the 21 youth plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States continue their strenuous efforts to bring their case to trial in open court. While the “reluctant” January 2020 majority opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals found in favor of the youth on two of three necessary elements on standing (harm and causation) but found against the youth on the one remaining element (redressability), we remain confident that the youth will prevail before an en banc reviewing panel of the Ninth Circuit, and ultimately in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Legal Actions Brought by Youth Against Individual States and Other Nations: Simultaneously, Our Children’s Trust continues our support of youth and counsel in related legal actions in multiple states and other nations. By advancing these related legal actions against multiple governments at several national and state levels, each seeking parallel court mandated science-based government action to mitigate the climate crisis, we are building necessary the climate and human rights jurisprudence that will lead to coordinated science-based climate policies around the globe, in time to bring atmospheric CO2 concentrations to safe levels below 350 ppm by the year 2100.
Our state cases were argued before the Alaska Supreme Court on October 8, and before the Oregon Supreme Court on Nov. 13. We are awaiting decisions in those cases. On November 8, we filed a comprehensive climate mitigation rulemaking petition on behalf of youth before the Colorado Oil & Gas Commission, building on the legislative changes spurred by our recent case before the Colorado Supreme Court. We are advancing the state’s administrative consideration of that petition. We filed a new case in Montana on March 13, 2020, and our Washington case is entering settlement negotiations with the Inslee Administration. On June 1, a video hearing was held at the trial court for our youth climate case against the state of Florida and its governor for contributing to climate change and violating their constitutional rights. The court ruled “regretfully” from the bench that it could not provide relief for the youth’s constitutional claims because they presented “political questions” beyond the authority of the court. The case will now proceed to the Circuit Court on appeal. We are also working with youth and lawyers to bring cases forward in Virginia, Utah, Texas, and Michigan. Thus, the bulwark of youth-led, science-based climate mitigation actions is growing and advancing dramatically thanks to your support of our efforts. Related youth-led climate legal actions are also
Adding to the global cases we support in India, Pakistan and Uganda, this year we orchestrated the filing of two important new cases, paralleling the strategy and relief sought in Juliana, in Canada and Mexico. By contrast with some jurisdictions (in which progress is less expeditious than we would like due in part to corona virus issues), the Canada case (La Rose v. Her Majesty the Queen) is poised for advancement in the coming months. We also continue to consult as experts in a variety of youth-led constitutional cases inspired by Juliana globally, including in Korea and Australia.
Informing Public Discourse on the Constitutional Solution to the Climate Crisis: We have also honed our coordinated media, public education and engagement efforts, to inform the public about these constitutional climate rights, the scientific prescription for climate recovery, and the legal solutions to the climate emergency. Notably, on the filing day of our constitutional case against the federal government of Canada, 15,000 people (largely youth climate strikers) along with Greta Thunberg joined our youth plaintiffs and attorneys in attending our press conference that we co-hosted with the David Suzuki Foundation, our communications partner in the case. We have earned literally hundreds of media reports, including widely distributed media coverage such as “60 Minutes” and “People” magazine, among many others. In 2019 we completed the first full season of our podcast, “No Ordinary Lawsuit,” illuminating the science of the climate crisis, the youth behind Juliana v. U.S., and the legal underpinnings of the case. A book about the Juliana plaintiffs and their lawsuit is expected to be published by Lee van der Voo, a Reuters and Guardian journalist, in September 2020, and a feature-length documentary by Barrelmaker Productions and Vulcan Productions about Juliana v. U.S. is expected to be released in late 2020 or early 2021.
We are also distributing a 5-lesson high school curriculum we developed in the latter half of 2019, building on the work we did with the Alex C. Walker Foundation that resulted in the graphic information pamphlet, Pathway to Climate Recovery. Our curriculum spins off from that pamphlet, and is designed to inform high school students about the climate crisis, constitutional protections, and the Juliana case. We are exploring corona virus related implications and opportunities for distribution, and expect this curriculum to expand youth awareness of the significance of the case at the very time it advances in the courts and the above referenced book and film are released. Our far reaching, intentional, multi-channel media effort is critical to demonstrating to decision-makers the significance of the strategic public and student support for the relief sought in all of our cases.
To further crystalize the public support, we also collaborate with national, regional and local groups and influencers of all stripes relative to the relief sought in our cases. As an example of our success in this regard, more than 30,000 young people, numerous multi-denominational faith groups, Members of Congress, businesses, law professors, public health officials, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, League of Women Voters, Union of Concerned Scientists, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and many, many more filed “friend of the court” briefs in support of the Juliana and state plaintiffs in 2019 and 2020.
We continue numerous partnerships to bring attention to the necessity of the constitutional parameters we seek mandating science-based government climate action and to provide trauma informed care for youth leading and impacted by the climate crisis so the voice of youth for a science-based solution to the climate crisis is elevated powerfully and healthfully.
We are extremely grateful to the Alex C. Walker Foundation for your support of all of these recent efforts and of our work over the years. We are making demonstrable progress toward our ultimate goals, and the year ahead will be a critical one in multiple respects. Thank you for your support.
We support a network of youth, scientists, economists and experts from multiple disciplines, to bring about macro governmental action at the federal, state, and global domestic levels that will drive systemic market incentives and public policy to place our society on a scientific prescription for atmospheric health, climate stability and ocean de-acidification.
The scope of our work is global. We support youth, legal counsel, experts and partners in multiple states in the U.S., and in several other nations, in related legal actions, all geared toward achieving systemic market incentives and public policies necessary to mitigate the climate crisis.
We disseminate information about our work through our media and education efforts generally, and through speaking engagements for our team and for the youth plaintiffs. We will report our continued progress on the Foundation's website, updating our report to include new legal actions, judicial decisions, and significant developments in our work. Additionally, we will provide our primary Alex C. Walker Foundation contacts with more regular updates through email and telephone communications.
Project Link www.ourchildrenstrust.org
(Check sent: 6/14/2019)