Time is Up.

by Sophia Murillo, ECI Intern

A legal battle over climate inaction has been taking in place in both of my countries. American and Colombian youth plaintiffs have instigated climate lawsuit cases in Juliana V. United States and Dejusticia. These youth are not the only ones that have been, are and will continue to be directly affected by climate change in its broadest sense, but they are powerful voices.

You, who are reading this, might have already been a victim of climate change, and might have not even noticed. The only difference is that, united by the harm to their basic constitutional rights -to life, liberty and property- caused by climate change, these youth advocates made the decision to take their government to trial for not taking the necessary actions to counteract the devastating consequences of maintaining a national energy system that has significantly contributed to climate change.

The Juliana v. United States case is a current climate lawsuit filed by 21 American youth plaintiffs in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon in 2015 alleging that their basic constitutional rights have been threatened by climate change and the government must take responsibility and action to fix it. The damages are catalogued one by one, demonstrating the harm done to each one of the plaintiffs at an individual level.

The Trump administration tried and failed to dismiss the case, only achieving to delay the trial to late October. The American youth plaintiffs are facing a steep path towards success, but the fight is not over.

The Dejusticia case highly resembles the Juliana v. U.S. case, and in fact, was one of the legal model inspirations used by the Colombian youth plaintiffs and their lawyers to shape their case’s arguments. This was a climate lawsuit filed by 25 Colombian youth plaintiffs complaining that their health and interests have been endangered by the perilous consequences of climate change too.

Colombia is governed by a legal system that protects fundamental rights, placing them above all else. Colombia’s Supreme Court provided a quick response to the climate lawsuit, agreeing with the youth plaintiffs that the government has done little towards its commitment to achieve net-zero deforestation by 2020. Recently, the Amazon itself was provided with rights that protects its ecosystems. The court recognized this as an essential key to take the next steps towards transition to renewable energy, and the end of deforestation.

Colombia is second only to Brazil as the most biodiverse country in the world. It has been also often recognized as one of the happiest countries. It is the burden of political corruption and drug trafficking that has kept Colombia trapped a cycle of economic instability.

The judges ordered an “Intergenerational pact for the life and Colombian Amazon” as well as a renewable resource planning and formulated goals to tackle deforestation. Now the Colombian youth plaintiffs are waiting to see if their case will undergo further constitutional review, and must also do what is possible to ensure that the government keep its end of the deal, which surely will be a challenge.

This is an important case contrast that shows the relevance of analyzing reciprocal interactions between nations and ways in which they can all cooperate with each other to find a link of international union and global stability. It is also a clear example of how United States, Colombia and other countries can compare their success in different areas, contribute to each other’s common interests in the future and find a reasonable solution to the overall conflicts between their nations.

As I mentioned above, for the American youth plaintiffs the fight is not over. The Juliana v. U.S. case also deserves to undergo a fair constitutional review where the Supreme Court acknowledges that the U.S government must take responsibility for ensuring the protection of their constitutional rights.

Time is up. Consequences have caught up with us and action must be taken. A change is essential to ensure our survival; climate change affects us all, it is the factor driving the main determinant for the quality of our air, water, and generally the quality of our public health. Caring about climate change is caring about ourselves. To directly support their case, sign this petitionLearn more about the Juliana v. U.S. climate lawsuit and its details of proceedings.

Earth Charter