Categories
2021 Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Fossil fuel extraction Imminent risk Indigenous peoples' rights Non-discrimination Right to life Right to property Sea-level rise United States of America

Aji P. and Others v. the State of Washington

Summary:
This case was brought by 13 young people aged between 8 and 18 who sued the US State of Washington, its Governor, and various other state agencies, arguing that the state had “injured and continue[d] to injure them by creating, operating, and maintaining a fossil fuel-based energy and transportation system that [the State] knew would result in greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions, dangerous climate change, and resulting widespread harm.” In doing so, they invoked their “fundamental and inalienable constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, equal protection, and a healthful and pleasant environment, which includes a stable climate system that sustains human life and liberty.” They also invoked the impacts on indigenous peoples’ rights. The plaintiffs requested the judiciary to “[o]rder [the state] to develop and submit to the Court . . . an enforceable state climate recovery plan”.

A number of amici filed briefs in the case. For example, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Quinault Indian Nation, and Suquamish Tribe argued that local tribes were already seeing impacts on their traditional lands and abutting marine waters. The Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW-US) noted the well-documented impacts of climate change on human and constitutional rights. The League of Women Voters of Washington argued that access to judicial action was particularly important for minors who did not enjoy access to the right to vote. And a group of environmental NGOs submitted that “the right to a healthful and pleasant environment underlies our continued ability to claim our explicitly-guaranteed rights to life and liberty.”

On 8 February 2021, the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington held that it “firmly believe[d] that the right to a stable environment should be
fundamental.” It also recognized “the extreme harm that greenhouse gas emissions inflict on the environment and its future stability.” However, it held that “it would be a violation of the separation of powers doctrine for the court to resolve the Youths’ claims.” It accordingly dismissed the claim.

On 6 October 2021, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington denied the petition for review in this case. González, C.J. (dissenting) noted that the plaintiffs “asked this court to recognize a fundamental right to a healthful and pleasant environment that may be inconsistent with our State’s maintenance of a fossil-fuel-based energy and transportation system that it knows will result in greenhouse gas emissions. These greenhouse gases hasten a rise in the earth’s temperature. This temperature change
foreshadows the potential collapse of our environment. In its place is an unstable climate system, conceivably unable to sustain human life and continued enjoyment of ordered liberty under law. Today, we have an opportunity to consider whether these are the sorts of harms that are remediable under Washington’s law and constitution. We should have granted review to decide that question”.

Categories
Domestic court Emissions reductions Fossil fuel extraction Guyana Right to a healthy environment

Thomas & De Freitas v. Guyana

Summary:
On 21 May 2021, two Guayanese citizens filed a case in the domestic courts of Guayana, alleging that their constitutional rights had been violated by Guyana’s approval of oil exploration licences to a joint venture involving ExxonMobil and other corporations. They invoked the government’s duty to protect their right to a healthy environment, as well as the right of future generations to the same.

The case documents are not yet available. However, the case has been reported widely. For more information, see:

Background information:
The Human Rights Committee had previously voiced concerns about the oil exploitation licenses granted by the Guayanese government. In its 2020 List of Issues, it asked the Government to provide information on “concerns that large scale oil extraction significantly increases greenhouse gas emissions, causes ocean acidification and
rising sea-levels, and adversely affects the most vulnerable groups in the State party, including the Amerindian and fishery-dependent communities and individuals living in poverty’.

Categories
2020 Canada Domestic court Emissions reductions Fossil fuel extraction Non-discrimination Right to life Standing/admissibility

Cecilia La Rose v Her Majesty the Queen

Facts of the case:

Plaintiffs comprising of 15 children and youths from various parts of Canada sued the Government and Attorney General of Canada alleging violations of the right to life and right to equality under Sections 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the constitutional and common law duty to protect the integrity of common natural resources in public trust. According to the plaintiffs, the impugned conduct of the respondents consisted in: continuing to cause, contribute to and allow a level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions incompatible with a Stable Climate System (defined as a climate capable of sustaining human life and liberties); adopting GHG emission targets that are inconsistent with the best available science about what is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change and restore a Stable Climate System; failing to meet the Defendants’ own GHG emission targets; and actively participating in and supporting the development, expansion and operation of industries and activities involving fossil fuels that emit a level of GHGs incompatible with a Stable Climate System.

The defendants, while accepting the plaintiffs’ concerns about the seriousness of climate change and its potential impacts, filed a motion to strike their claim alleging that their claim is not justiciable.

Date of decision:

27 October 2020

Admissibility:

On 27 October 2020 the Federal Court in Ottawa granted the defendants’ motion. The Court answered the question of justiciability of the claims of Charter violations for the reason that the impugned conduct is of undue breadth and diffuse nature, and that the remedies sought by the plaintiffs were inappropriate. The Court also found that it had no constitutional obligation to intervene on the matter as there is room for disagreement between reasonable people on how climate change should be addressed. On the issue of justiciability of the public trust doctrine invoked by the plaintiffs, the Court found that the question of existence of the doctrine is a legal question which courts can resolve. However, the Court found that the plaintiffs’ claim did not disclose a reasonable prospect of success for the purposes of its admissibility.

Merits:

NA

Status of the case:

The plaintiffs have appealed against the Federal Court’s order before the Federal Court of Appeal.

Suggested case citation:

Federal Court of Ottawa, Cecilia La Rose v Her Majesty the Queen, T-1750-19, judgment of 27 October 2020, 2020 FC 1008

Case documents:

For the complaint filed by the plaintiffs on 25 October 2019, click here.

For the Government’s statement of defence notified on 7 February 2020, click here.

For the plaintiff’s reply to the Government’s motion to strike, filed on 31 August 2020, click here.

For the Federal Court of Ottawa’s order dated 27 October 2020, click here.

For the Memorandum of Appeal filed by the plaintiffs on 5 March 2021, click here.

Further reading:

Camille Cameron, Riley Weyman, ‘Recent Youth-Led and Rights-Based Climate Change Litigation in Canada: Reconciling Justiciability, Charter Claims and Procedural Choices,’ 34(1) Journal of Environmental Law (2021), Pages 195–207. Available here.