Court throws out climate change case...but...
On Friday an appeals court in California dismissed a case brought by youth activists against the US government over the climate crisis, however a dissenting opinion by one of the judges provides a glimmer of hope for future cases.
In Juliana v United States, Kelsey Juliana and 20 other youth activists had argued they had a constitutional right to a stable climate and that the government should be ordered to enact a plan to reduce emissions and stabilise the climate.
The court was sympathetic to the case put forward by the youth plaintiffs, noting that:
“The plaintiffs have made a compelling case that action is needed; it will be increasingly difficult in light of that record for the political branches to deny that climate change is occurring, that the government has had a role in causing it, and that our elected officials have a moral responsibility to seek solutions”
However ultimately the majority opinion concluded that “the plaintiffs’ case must be made to the political branches or to the electorate at large, the latter of which can change the composition of the political branches through the ballot box.”
Judge Josephine L. Stanton was scathing in her dissenting opinion, stating:
“In these proceedings, the government accepts as fact that the United States has reached a tipping point crying out for a concerted response—yet presses ahead toward calamity. It is as if an asteroid were barreling toward Earth and the government decided to shut down our only defenses.”
She concluded that the plaintiffs should be able to argue their case at trial and noted that there was positives in the decision:
“Where is the hope in today’s decision? Plaintiffs’ claims are based on science, specifically, an impending point of no return. If plaintiffs’ fears, backed by the government’s own studies, prove true, history will not judge us kindly. When the seas envelop our coastal cities, fires and droughts haunt our interiors, and storms ravage everything between, those remaining will ask: Why did so many do so little?”
So while this particular case will not go forward, there is much to take from this case in that the US government did not argue the facts of climate change, but focused on the technicalities of separation of powers and whether the courts could overrule the legislative and executive branches.