Thought of the Week: Is Climate Change Legal?


Children in America have just won the right to sue the American government for exposing them to the risks and effects of climate change. Climate change is already uprooting populations and irreversibly altering ways of life which have been the norm and functional for generations. It will be, no, it is the biggest threat to the survival of our species and our planet.

Oregon US district court judge, Ann Aiken, upheld the right of 21 plaintiffs (aged 8 to 19) to a climate system which can sustain life. Juliana vs United States, may end up in the Supreme Court of the USA, bringing the fight to climate rights to the forefront of the American conscience. This may be the direction we need to follow in order to protect the environment.

One of the points raised to explain legal indifference to climate change, is that it involves a  market externality. The ‘climate’ is a common good, which no country or person really owns and therefore no country or person can really held accountable to it. By considering the right to a viable climate, then you create a legal precedent, recognising an individual’s right to access it. Kind of like people disputing over fish in a lake. This opens up channels for accountability, so where corporations have been able to pollute into the commons pretty much unaccounted for, as the climate gains ownership and therefore legal status, the harder environmental pollution will be to overlook. So no, climate change is not technically legal, but until now it wasn’t illegal either.

However, how does this impact international climate justice? It’s all very well that in Europe or America, we may begin to sue our governments for exposing us to the horror of Climate Change. But will this translate to the international stage? Will South Pacific island states be able to sue China for overfishing and destroying it’s reefs? Will the Maldives be able to sue America for the rising waves slowly creeping up the beaches? And will we ever the the environment as a public good, available and fruitful for all and not just those with the capital to exploit it?

Additional information:

Children win right to sue US Government for Climate Change Impacts – Independent


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