A federal appeals court on Friday denied an appeal. action brought by 21 young people who claimed that the US government's climate policies and dependence on fossil fuels harm them, compromise their future and violate their constitutional rights.
The resignation causes a potentially fatal blow to a long-standing case that activists saw as an important front in the war against environmental degradation.
The Oregon-based youth advocacy group Our children's trust filed the lawsuit in 2015 in Eugene on behalf of young people. He sought an injunction ordering the government to implement a plan to phase out fossil fuel emissions and reduce atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide.
The case reverberated in federal courts for five years and several trial dates were canceled.
The 2-1 vote for dismissal by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was a serious setback for climate activists, who promised to ask the full 9th Circuit panel to review the decision. Our Children & # 39; s Trust has filed several similar cases in state and federal courts and currently has nine cases pending in state courts from Alaska to New Mexico.
Friday's decision is less likely to affect these cases, experts said.
"This is a very serious blow to the case, perhaps a fatal blow," he said. Jennifer Rushlow, associate dean of environmental programs at Vermont Law School, who follows the case closely.
The Children & # 39; s Children & # 39; s Trust said in a statement that, although the judges decided to resign, it was important to note that they also said in their opinion that the evidence showed that climate change was real and caused by fossil fuels and that the young authors suffered legitimate consequences. of Climate Change.
The "case is far from over," said Julia Olson, principal lawyer for Our Children & # 39; s Trust. "The court recognized that climate change is increasing exponentially and that the federal government has long known that its actions contribute substantially to the climate crisis."
Government lawyers have repeatedly sought to dismiss the case and have managed to narrow the scope of the claims and some defendants dismissed during years of litigation.
On Friday, the court wrote that young people made a convincing case that action is needed and agreed that climate change is undeniable, but said that the right place to address the country's emissions policies and the use of fossil fuels is the US Congress or the executive branch.
In addition, the judges wrote that ending the use of fossil fuels only in the US – which is what the plaintiffs were looking for – would not be enough to slow or stop climate change.
"That's the moving thing about that opinion," he said Cara Horowitz, co-director of the Emmett Institute for Climate Change and Environment at the UCLA Faculty of Law. “The 9th Circuit recognizes that climate change is an existential threat … and agrees that the political branches have not done enough to solve this problem in the past and are unlikely to do so in the future. But the court just feels that it is in a really difficult situation. "
The only dissident justice, Josephine Staton, wrote that "my colleagues raise their hands".
"No case can alone prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change predicted by the government and scientists … and the mere fact that this process cannot stop climate change alone does not mean that it does not present an adequate claim for judicial resolution. "wrote Staton in his dissent.
The authors, who were between 8 and 18 years old when the lawsuit was filed in 2015, linked specific incidents that affected their lives to climate change and US government policies.
In one example, a young woman said she was forced to leave her home on a Navajo reservation because of water scarcity, separating her from her relatives. Another – the youngest plaintiff – said that storms caused by climate change affected his home, a barrier island off the coast of Florida, just 9 meters above sea level. Still others cited health impacts, such as worsening asthma attacks caused by air pollution.
Plaintiffs come from across the country, from Oregon to Louisiana and New York.