WCC regrets rejection of youth activists’ appeal over climate crisis

Climate Strike March in New York during the UN General Assembly 2019. Photo: Marcelo Schneider/WCC

As a US federal appeals court ordered dismissal of a lawsuit brought by 21 youth plaintiffs against the federal government over the climate crisis, the World Council of Churches (WCC) reiterated its concern about government failure to address climate change and its impacts on the world that children and young people will inherit.

The court found that the “plaintiffs have made a compelling case that action is needed; it will be increasingly difficult in light of that record for the political branches to deny that climate change is occurring, that the government has had a role in causing it, and that our elected officials have a moral responsibility to seek solutions.” However, the court concluded that it had no power or capacity to intervene. “That the other branches may have abdicated their responsibility to remediate the problem does not confer on Article III courts, no matter how well-intentioned, the ability to step into their shoes.”

“The US is among the countries that have contributed the most to global warming for the longest,” observed WCC director for international affairs Peter Prove. “The rejection of this landmark appeal by young people who are inheriting a world in climate crisis is deeply disappointing for all who seek government accountability for inaction and recalcitrance in the face of this global emergency.” Nevertheless, Prove observed that the court’s recognition of the executive government’s abdication of responsibility “serves to strengthen the mounting pressure on the US government, and all governments, to act in the best interests of current and future generations of citizens, not in the interests of corporate and industry elites.”

The case was brought against the US government in 2015, charging that it sanctioned, permitted and authorized a fossil fuel system that compromised the young people’s civil right to property. The case implied a constitutional right to a stable climate, and alleged that the government violated the public trust by failing to act accordingly.

“We urge US leaders – and leaders throughout the world – to take young people seriously, to realize what we are risking by thwarting their efforts, and to choose policies and economic structures that will stem the tide of damage to the earth, to children, to the sacred home of all humanity,” said Prove.

The young people, now all between the ages of 12 and 23, had also asked the US district court of Oregon to order the government to craft a climate remediation plan, one targeting scientifically acceptable standards to stabilize the climate.

Kelsey Juliana, a 23-year-old named plaintiff, said she was “disappointed that these judges would find that federal courts can’t protect America’s youth, even when a constitutional right has been violated.”

WCC, oikoumene.org