Our Children’s Trust is an organization that has made headlines this year for filing lawsuits on the behalf of children and teens affected by climate change. Today, they’ve just had a major victory in Washington state: a judge has ruled that the Washington Department of Ecology has a legal duty to protect future generations from the effects of climate change by reducing state limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
In his landmark decision, King County Superior Court Judge Hollis R. Hill writes, “[the youths’] very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming…before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of the ruling isn’t the judge’s decision itself, but the reasoning behind it. Judge Hill referenced the public trust doctrine in his ruling, a legal principle which holds the state responsible for the protection of water resources. Not only does global warming directly impact protected coastal waters by increasing ocean acidification, but Judge Hill also argued that “navigable waters and the atmosphere are intertwined” and that trying to separate the two in environmental policies is “nonsensical.”
The ruling comes after over a year of legal challenges. The eight children and their guardians originally petitioned their state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in June 2014, and were rebuffed. This July, they tried again, meeting with Governor Jay Inslee to personally argue their case. The Governor was moved by their arguments, and directed state regulators to cap emissions a curb them by 50% by 2050 — yet the Department of Ecology continued to reject the children’s request.
This isn’t the only case of its kind working its way through the judicial system, and it will be interesting to see how other courts respond to the ruling. In August 2015, a group of 21 young people ranging in age from 8 to 19 filed a lawsuit against the federal government demanding immediate action to fight climate change.