The government doesn’t work for corporations, it works for the people, and here’s a way they are being reminded of that
Imagine that you’ve decided to build your dream house. You hire me to be your contractor. Fast forward 6 months later and I have done zero work. In fact, I’ve barely started drawing up plans for you to approve. What would you do? Would you take me to court?
Well, that is exactly what people around the world are doing, but it’s not just your money and time that are at risk – it is your future. Bubbling up all over the world are legal cases in which young and old are suing their governments for not acting, not even creating a plan, to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
This Planet found a surprising number of these cases, and we included them in this short, inspiring video , Climate Warriors Winning in Court.
How far reaching and diverse are these cases? Are they taking place solely in the lower courts, or only in the developed world? By no means: these cases come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from legal discourse at The Hague, to civil suits in the mountains of Peru. One thing they share is the recognition that climate change is creating new dangers – a recognition that is getting harder to deny as ice melts, floodwaters rise and droughts spread across the land. In legal terms, recognizing these dangers creates an implicit promise that governments are obligated to act in order to safeguard the future. Let’s take a deeper look into how these broken promises are being made right in court:
1. In the case of Urgenda vs the Netherlands, a Dutch court at The Hague explored the responsibility of the state in matters relating to climate change. The question of the state’s responsibility was addressed, positing that the Netherlands would suffer water shortages and heat related deaths would increase exponentially should they continue to release CO2 at the current rate. The court decreed that steps be taken by the state to ensure that reductions in CO2 emissions of at least 25% are made, because anything less would be breaking the law.
A 16-year-old in White Plains, NY speaks her mind about why climate change education is essential. She is part of a lawsuit leveled against the U.S. government, calling on them to rethink their position on CO2. She contends that continuing to release fossil fuels as we have been is putting the next generation, her generation, at risk and if the current leadership does nothing, it shows both a lack of responsibility and ageism toward the young.
In Peru, the ‘eternal ice’ is melting. Huarez, a small village nestled in between the peaks of the Andes, is at risk of a huge flood wave wiping out those who live in this valley as the glaciers are being washed away by global warming and very little to nothing is being done to protect the people. In a strange twist, these threatened families in Peru are connecting with climate change activists in Germany to sue RWE, a German energy company. One of the aims of the Peruvians is to illustrate the global nature of climate change, holding a company based in one of the world’s most industrialized and wealthiest nations responsible for effects that too often play out in the world’s poorest countries. It is estimated that at least 5,000 people would be impacted by this tsunami and they are completely unprotected, so they are seeking part of the costs of building a dam to protect them when the flood waters from the melting glaciers arrive, as they inevitably will.
Students in St Louis decided to become the teachers and give their city council a ‘climate change report card’. The city scored a D- on its Zero Emissions plan and a C on Carbon Removal. Their frank statements moved a council member Anne Mavity to say, “We need to be pushed. We are trying to be very forward-thinking but we can do more. Help us do that.”
Perhaps most effective of all is the Oregon-based group Our Children’s Trust, which has partnered with a broad range of climate activism groups to bring lawsuits on behalf of young people in all 50 states. Their suits have been challenged by government and businesses, but they are winning the right to proceed, so far in Massachusettes, Oregon and Washington. You can learn more and see videos of many of these kids at their website, ourchildrenstrust.org.