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Our Children's Trust Out in Front with a Precedent-Setting Court Case

Sweeping Constitutional 'Youth v. Gov' Win

Constitutional, environmental protection, climate law, court decision

News from the Climate Action Frontlines, via Columbia Climate School, State of the Planet

Montana Young People Have Won a Key Climate Case, What That Means...

On August 14, a state judge issued a landmark ruling in favor of young Montana climate activists in the Held v. State of Montana case. The plaintiffs claimed that the state violated their right to a clean and healthful environment under Montana’s constitution. District Court judge Kathy Seeley declared that a state law violated this right by stopping agencies from considering climate impacts when conducting environmental reviews. This is the first constitutional climate trial in the United States, confronting a state’s responsibility for climate change.

Experts at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, an affiliate of the Columbia Climate School, have been following the case closely since its inception. The case summary and key documents can be viewed in the center’s climate change litigation database; edirector Michael Burger recently wrote a lay explanation of the case. This month, the center also issued a new report that explores trends and prospects in climate litigation around the world.

According to the report, the number of climate cases has more than doubled in the last five years, and litigation is expected to continually increase. The report says that as of the start of this year, there are 2,180 climate change cases underway around the world, with 1,522 in the United States alone. There are cases in 55 countries, with many in Britain, Europe, and Australia, along with a growing number in Asia and the Global South. Apart from the report, the director of global legal strategy at the Foundation for International Law for the Environment in the Netherlands said that about 50 percent of cases are being won.

“Litigation is a critical tool that’s available to a wide range of actors, including governments at all levels, nongovernmental organizations and community groups, individuals and the private sector to seek to advance climate action,” said Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change.

Sabin Center Staff Weigh in on Held v. Montana Case

Below are links to extensive media coverage quoting Sabin Center experts on recent climate-related environmental law news. This list originally appeared on the Columbia Law Climate School website, and is updated regularly.

Columbia Law School / Columbia Climate School -- current climate/legal news and links:

Featured environmental law expert - Michael Gerrard, Sabin Center faculty director and professor of climate, Columbia Climate School

Montana Judge Rules in Favor of Climate Activists in Lawsuit Over Fossil Fuels, Meet the Press NOW, August 16, 2023 (Michael Gerrard's appearance at 00:45 minute mark)

Links to Media News and Op/Ed Coverage of Montana Court Decision Updated Here

A Court Win in Montana Could Help Climate Litigation Everywhere Else, Bloomberg, August 16, 2023

A Win for Young Environmentalists in Red State Montana, Background Briefing with Ian Masters, August 16, 2023

1 big thing: Climate law's elemental challenges, Axios, August 15, 2023 -- Michael Gerrard says that a handful of U.S. states (six states - Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island) have constitutional language guaranteeing a right to environmental protection.


Montana judge hands young plaintiffs significant victory in landmark climate trial, CNN, August 15, 2023 “This Supreme Court has been more about taking away rights than granting new ones.”

Judge sides with youth activists in groundbreaking climate change lawsuit, Popular Science, August 15, 2023

Kids Win Huge Case on Climate in Montana Court with Climate Change Law Stand up! with Pete Dominick, August 15, 2023

Judge rules in favor of young activists in Montana climate change trial NPR, August 14, 2023

Court sides with kids who sued Montana over climate change, The Hill, August 14, 2023 “That’s what made the big difference here — the fact that this was brought under the environmental rights provision of the state’s constitution. That was the key to victory.”

Montana Youth Win Historic Case on Harm From Climate Change, Bloomberg Law, August 14, 2023 “I think this is the strongest decision on climate change ever issued by any court.”

What to Know About the Groundbreaking Climate Change Lawsuit in Montana, Mother Jones, June 26, 2023 “There have been hundreds of lawsuits but very few of them go to trial.”

Youth-Led Climate Change Trial in Montana Sets the Stage for More, The Messenger, June 20, 2023

Verdict awaited in historic US climate trial, Agence France-Presse, June 20, 2023

Dramatic week in Montana climate trial as youngsters tell of toll on lives, The Guardian, June 17, 2023

Group of 16 young people sue state for allegedly violating its own constitution: ‘The State may have to change its policies‘, The Cool Down, June 17, 2023

The Lawfare Podcast: Michael Gerrard on Held v. Montana, Lawfare Blog, June 16, 2023

16 young people are suing the state of Montana over the climate crisis – one resident says the wildfire smoke makes him want to lie in bed and cry, Insider, June 15, 2023 “We are so far behind where we need to be in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions that every lawful tactic needs to be pursued. And litigation is certainly one of them.”

Historic first US youth climate change trial starts in Montana, Nation of Change, June 15, 2023

In Montana, Youth File Historic First Lawsuit Related to Climate Change, GLOBE, June 14, 2023

In Court Testimony, Climate Scientists Rebuke Montana for Support of Fossil Fuels, Desmog, June 14, 2023

Landmark youth-led climate case heads to trial in Montana, Washington Post, June 12, 2023

Do children have a right to a healthy climate? Montana case is a test, Christian Science Monitor, June 12, 2023 “It will also be a moment where climate change scientists can make their case in court about the connection between climate change and extreme weather.”

Historic First U.S. Youth Climate Change Trial in Montana, EcoWatch, June 12, 2023

First Youth Trial On Climate Change Starts In Montana, One Green Planet, June 10, 2023

First U.S. youth climate change trial kicks off in Montana, Reuters, June 9, 2023 “A favorable decision could have a ripple effect around the world, inspiring new cases under multiple theories.”

In Montana, It’s Youth v. the State in a Landmark Climate Case, The New York Times, March 24, 2023

Judge Rules in Favor of Montana Youths in a Landmark Climate Case, The New York Times, August 14, 2023 “This was climate science on trial, and what the court has found as a matter of fact is that the science is right. Emissions contribute to climate change, climate harms are real, people can experience climate harms individually, and every ton of greenhouse gas emissions matters.”

Montana youth climate lawsuit exhibits an emerging front against polluters and stagnant politicians, Footprint Coalition, June 22, 2023

Landmark climate case heads to judge, The Hill, June 21, 2023 “The trial will be a major stage for the nation to see contemporary climate attribution science, which links climate change to both slow onset changes in the environment and more immediate, short-term, extreme events.”

The trial that marks a milestone in American youth’s fight for climate starts in Montana, Tech Codex, Jun 13, 2023

The Stand Science Will Assume, Bolly Inside, June 13, 2023

Landmark youth climate trial begins in US state of Montana, Agence France-Presse, June 13, 2023 “Governments and the fossil fuel industry “tend to say that… nothing should be done until everybody agrees to do everything, and that no individual contribution can be so big as to matter.”

Landmark ‘kids’ climate trial begins: how science will take the stand, Nature, June 12, 2023

Youth litigants say Montana is violating their right to healthy environment, KCRW, June 12, 2023

Western courts grapple with climate change, Grist, May 24, 2023 “It certainly is possible that the existence of a constitutional right will give an individual judge some greater comfort in making a bold decision.”

Montana Lawsuit Confronts States’ Responsibility for Climate Change, Brennan Center for Justice, op-ed by Michael Burger, May 22, 2023

Date set for first youth-led climate trial in U.S. history, NBC, February 7, 2022 “One way that people respond when other systems fail, when politics fail, governments fail, corporate governance fails is they go to court to try and seek redress.”

Additional Montana climate decision media mentions:

Why the Montana Climate Kids Can’t Lose, Heatmap, June 23, 2023

First U.S. Climate Trial Begins and is Led by Kids, Scientific American, June 9, 2023

Montana Youth Prepare for Trial in Major Climate Case against the State, Sierra Magazine, June 7, 2023

Visit the following page at Columbia Law/Climate School for current climate/legal news and links:


August 2023 / In the U.S. / A 'Game-changing Court Decision

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Judge rules in favor of Montana youths in landmark climate decision

‘This is a monumental decision,’ said a lawyer for the young plaintiffs, and could influence how judges handle similar cases in other states

In the first ruling of its kind nationwide, a Montana state court decided Monday in favor of young people who alleged the state violated their right to a “clean and healthful environment” by promoting the use of fossil fuels...

The Held Decision

(HCR) The Montana court ruling is a major legal victory for those combating climate change:

In 1972, after a century of mining, ranching, and farming had taken a toll on Montana, voters in that state added to their constitution an amendment saying that “[t]he state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations,” and that the state legislature must make rules to prevent the degradation of the environment. In March 2020 the nonprofit public interest law firm Our Children’s Trust filed a lawsuit on behalf of sixteen young Montana residents, arguing that the state’s support for coal, oil, and gas violated their constitutional rights because it created the pollution fueling climate change, thus depriving them of their right to a healthy environment. They pointed to a Montana law forbidding the state and its agents from taking the impact of greenhouse gas emissions or climate change into consideration in their environmental reviews, as well as the state’s fossil fuel–based state energy policy.

That lawsuit is named Held v. Montana after the oldest plaintiff, Rikki Held, whose family’s 7,000-acre ranch was threatened by a dwindling water supply, and both the state and a number of officers of Montana. The state of Montana contested the lawsuit by denying that the burning of fossil fuels causes climate change—despite the scientific consensus that it does—and denied that Montana has experienced changing weather patterns. Through a spokesperson, the governor said: “We must focus on American innovation and ingenuity, not costly, expansive government mandates, to address our changing climate.”

Today, U.S. District Court Judge Kathy Seeley found for the young Montana residents, agreeing that they have “experienced past and ongoing injuries resulting from the State’s failure to consider [greenhouse gas emissions] and climate change, including injuries to their physical and mental health, homes and property, recreational, spiritual, and aesthetic interests, tribal and cultural traditions, economic security, and happiness.” She found that their “injuries will grow increasingly severe and irreversible without science-based actions to address climate change.”

The plaintiffs sought an acknowledgement of the relationship of fossil fuels to climate change and a declaration that the state’s support for fossil fuel industries is unconstitutional. Such a declaration would create a foundation for other lawsuits in other states...

Read the Decision:

August 14, 2023

RIKKI HELD, et al., Plaintiff, V. STATE OF MONTANA, et al., Defendant


How can legislation – and especially precedent-setting and framework laws – support climate ambition?


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Acting to Make a Positive Difference

Climate Advocates Who Say It’s Not Too Late

March 2022 / NYT

A growing chorus of young people is focusing on climate solutions. “‘It’s too late’ means ‘I don’t have to do anything, and the responsibility is off me.’”

Alaina Wood is well aware that, planetarily speaking, things aren’t looking so great. She’s read the dire climate reports, tracked cataclysmic weather events and gone through more than a few dark nights of the soul.

She is also part of a growing cadre of people, many of them young, who are fighting climate doomism, the notion that it’s too late to turn things around. They believe that focusing solely on terrible climate news can sow dread and paralysis, foster inaction, and become a self-fulfilling prophecy...

Some climate advocates refer to the stance taken by Ms. Wood and her allies as “OK Doomer,” a riff on “OK Boomer,” the Gen Z rebuttal to condescension from older folks.

If awareness about the climate crisis has never been greater, so, too, has been a mounting sense of dread about its unfolding effects, particularly among the young. Two-thirds of Americans thought the government was doing too little to fight climate change, according to a 2020 Pew study, while a survey last year of 10,000 teens and young adults in 10 countries found that three quarters were frightened of the future. |

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