The Trump administration is desperately trying to dismiss a children’s climate lawsuit

Dark clouds ahead.
Dark clouds ahead.
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
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On Friday (Oct. 19), the US Supreme Court blocked a climate lawsuit that pits children against the federal government. The trial was set to start in 10 days, and the lawyers for the young people have until Wednesday to respond and convince the court justices to let the trial begin.

The case Julian vs United States was filed in 2015 in the US district court in Oregon. It claimed that the US government, then led by Barack Obama, had violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property through actions that cause climate change. It asks a judge to order the government to create a recovery plan that will reduce carbon-dioxide emissions to 350 parts per million (ppm) by 2100 (down from more than 410 ppm today) and stabilize the climate system.

The government has tried to dismiss the lawsuit, but their motions have been repeatedly struck down. In November 2016, US district court judge Anne Aiken’s opinion gave strong support for the case to go to trial:

Just as marriage is the foundation of the family, a stable climate system is quite literally the foundation of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress… this lawsuit is not about proving that climate change is happening or that human activity is driving it. For purposes of this motion, those facts are undisputed… Federal courts too often have been cautious and overly deferential in the arena of environmental law and the world has suffered for it.

The US government under Obama said in September 2016 that “We do not question the science. Climate change threatens our environment and our ecosystems. It alters our climate systems and it will only worsen over time. It is the result of man-made emissions.” But it argued that US courts are “ill-suited” to rule on matters “that span the globe.” The Trump administration’s argument is that the case “is an unconstitutional attempt to use a single court to control the entire nation’s energy and climate policy.”

Julia Olson, the young people’s lawyer and the chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust, argues that courts need to step in because the government has not, despite knowing that fossil-fuel emissions cause global warming. In any case, she argues that this is not a question of ruling by courts but of securing constitutional rights. “We don’t usurp judicial power in the United States of America. Our courts hear constitutional claims and they decide them not by speculating as to the facts, but seeing the evidence and hearing the expert testimony,” Olson said in a statement.

As Quartz reported previously, similar lawsuits that aim to force governments to act on climate change have succeeded in Colombia and the Netherlands, and some are under consideration in Norway, Belgium, Australia, Canada, and the UK.