Young People are Taking their Governments to Court to Fight Climate Change

24 January, 2024

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The Rise of Climate Litigation: An Emergence of Youth Activism

Climate change has been a hot topic for a while now. It is one of those global issues that have affected all of us in one way or the other. However, the younger generation seems to have taken up the mantle for climate action. In recent years, young people have taken their governments to court for not doing enough to combat climate change. These legal actions have received worldwide attention and inspired hope for a better future. Here are four examples of how young people are using the power of the law to hold their governments accountable and fight for climate justice.

Youth-Led Climate Cases Around the Globe: Pioneering a Legal Revolution

The Fiji Chapter of Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change. Image Credit: PISFCC
The Fiji Chapter of Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change. Image Credit: PISFCC

Pacific Island Student Initiative Sparks Global Movement and Achieves Historic Court Ruling

In the Pacific Islands, 27 students made it their mission to take the world's biggest problem to its highest court. What started as a local initiative turned into a global movement, campaigning to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on climate change and human rights. In March 2023, the UN General Assembly adopted the resolution to request an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice on climate change and human rights. Under the leadership of Vanuatu, the resolution was co-sponsored by over 130 countries. This marks a historic moment for the Court, as it is the first time that an advisory opinion has been requested with unanimous support.

The Fight for Climate Justice: Youth-Led Legal Action in Hawaii

The youth plaintiffs before the hearing of their case in Hawai’i. Image credit: Elyse Butler for Earthjustice
The youth plaintiffs before the hearing of their case in Hawai’i. Image credit: Elyse Butler for Earthjustice

Hawai’i, an island group known for its natural beauty and biodiversity, has seen young people rise to challenge the government's inaction in the face of climate change. A group of 14 youth advocates filed a lawsuit with the help of Earthjustice accusing the state of failing to fulfill its legal obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They argued that the government's inaction was violating their constitutional right to a stable climate. Thanks to their legal efforts, a Honolulu judge ruled that the state had a constitutional obligation to preserve and protect the environment for future generations. The decision marked a significant victory for climate action advocates in Hawaii.

Striking Back Against Climate Change: Young people defending their constitutional rights in the US

The legal actions of Our Children's Trust have also made headlines. The organization filed a lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, on behalf of 21 young people, where they accused the government of violating their constitutional rights by not acting on climate change. The plaintiffs argued that the government's action was infringing their right to life, liberty, and property. The case was put on hold because of the change in government, but it still draws attention to the need for government action on climate.

Group photo of the youth plaintiffs in the Juliana v United States case. Image credit: Our Children’s Trust
Group photo of the youth plaintiffs in the Juliana v United States case. Image credit: Our Children’s Trust

Beyond Youth: Seniors Taking on Their Government in Switzerland

It is not just young people in Hawaii and the US who are taking their governments to court over climate change. A group of senior women in Switzerland are also making a legal effort to hold their government accountable. The women, aged between 63 and 80, filed a lawsuit in the Swiss Federal Administrative Court, where they claim that the government's inadequate climate policies violate their rights to life, health, and property. The case is still ongoing, but it has galvanized support from climate activists worldwide.

A group of “Climate Seniors” outside the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Image credit: Emma Farge/Reuters 2023
A group of “Climate Seniors” outside the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Image credit: Emma Farge/Reuters 2023

Youth Power in Europe: 6 Young People Sue 32 European Governments for Climate Inaction

In an effort crowdfunded by people around the world, 6 young people from Portugal are challenging 32 European countries for not doing enough to combat climate change. The youth-led climate case argues that these governments' failure to take the necessary action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a violation of their human rights. Unmatched in its scale, this case sends a powerful message to governments across the world that young people are demanding climate action now.

The Power of Youth in Climate Action Litigation: a wake-up call for governments, an inspiration for us all

The young people who have taken their governments to court over climate change are an inspiration to all of us. Their legal actions have served as a wake-up call for governments to take climate change seriously and make more significant changes to mitigate its impacts. The lawsuits filed have put a spotlight on the critical issue of climate justice and raised awareness among younger generations worldwide. Their actions have demonstrated that anyone can become a climate warrior by using the power of the law to hold governments accountable. The future of our planet depends on all of us taking meaningful steps to combat climate change, and the actions of these young people are a great reminder that we can all make a difference.

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Maike Gericke

Maike is one of Tiramisu's co-founders and really passionate about wellbeing, sustainability and creating a better and more equal future.

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