While much of the momentum to fight climate change is focused on political channels, there are parallel efforts using law to force government to take specific, enforceable actions to reduce carbon emissions. It’s a difficult battle, but in recent weeks two notable initiatives have gained further momentum – a court ruling relying on the public trust doctrine and a new human rights declaration that has broad international support.
The court ruling is related to a series of lawsuits brought by young people invoking the public trust doctrine to force governments to protect the atmosphere. Orchestrated by the advocacy organization Our Children’s Trust, the Atmospheric Trust Litigation suits have been filed in all state courts and in federal courts.
On November 19, one of those lawsuits succeeded. A superior court judge in Seattle issued a ruling that strongly recognizes the public trust doctrine as a applying to the atmosphere. The case sought to uphold science-based plans for carbon emissions reductions developed by Washington State’s Department of Ecology, as a way to protect the atmosphere for eight young people (the plaintiffs) and future generations.
The ruling is especially significant because it echoes a recent ruling by a New Mexico court that also strongly upholds the constitutional principle that the public trust doctrine applies to the atmosphere.
COP21 negotiators, are you listening?