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  • The 21 youth plaintiffs after the initial hearing on March 9 in Eugene, Oregon

    The 21 youth plaintiffs after the initial hearing on March 9 in Eugene, Oregon | Photo: Our Children´s Trust

Published 12 November 2016

On Thursday a U.S. Federal court in Eugene, Oregon approved a groundbreaking lawsuit brought by 21 youth climate activists against the U.S. government and fossil fuel industry.

Hailed as a potential “turning point” in U.S. constitutional history and the fight against climate change, District Court Judge Ann Aiken said late Thursday that the suit brought by 21 plaintiffs, ranging in age from nine to 20, can proceed to trial.

"My generation is rewriting history," said Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, a 16-year-old plaintiff and youth director of Earth Guardians. "We're doing what so many people told us we were incapable of doing: holding our leaders accountable for their disastrous and dangerous actions. I and my co-plaintiffs are demanding justice for our generation and justice for all future generations."

The group of young activists is suing the federal government for violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, and their rights to vital public trust resources, by failing to regulate the fossil fuel industry despite knowing the catastrophic dangers posed by climate change.

Jude Aiken rejected the Obama administration's attempts to have the case thrown out saying in her decision that “the defendants' actions and inactions—whether or not they violate any specific statutory duty—have so profoundly damaged our home planet that they threaten plaintiffs' fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty."

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"This court just gave the youth of this country the critical opportunity to protect their futures," said Julia Olson, counsel for the plaintiffs and executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Our Children's Trust. "In what will be the trial of the millennium, these young plaintiffs will prove that their federal government, in cooperation with the fossil fuel industry, has knowingly put them in grave danger, trading their futures for present convenience and gross profits for a few."

World-renowned climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, who is a co-plaintiff in the case, said in a statement released after the decision, "this is a critical step toward solution of the climate problem and none too soon as climate change is accelerating," He added, "now we must ask the court to require the government to reduce fossil fuel emissions at a rate consistent with the science."

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"It's clear Judge Aiken gets what's at stake for us," said 17-year-old plaintiff Victoria Barrett, from White Plains, New York. "Our planet and our generation don't have time to waste. If we continue on our current path, my school in Manhattan will be underwater in 50 years. We are moving to trial and I'm looking forward to having the world see the incredible power my generation holds. We are going to put our nation on a science-based path toward climate stabilization."

The decision comes as the COP22 negotiations continue in Marrakech, Morocco to implement the Paris Accords which seeks to limit global warming to the crucial two degrees celsius mark. U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, a notorious climate change denier, has promised to withdraw from the Paris Accord as well as reopen the Keystone XL pipeline project, which Dr. Hansen has said would mean “game over” for the planet.

The World Meteorological Organization recently reported that the five years from 2011 to 2015 were the hottest on record, with hundreds of thousands of deaths likely due to global warming from human activity.

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