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”.