By Dino Grandoni
It was supposed to be the “trial of the century.” Now the case won’t even get its day in court.
The dismissal of a landmark, youth-led climate lawsuit late last week is a sign of how hard it will be to use the courts to solve a problem as big as climate change.
That’s a wrench in the plans of environmental advocates and their Democratic allies who are frustrated with Congress’s failure to pass major climate legislation — and have increasingly turned to the court system to stop what they see as the pressing ecological and economic crisis of rising global temperatures.
“From the outset, it was a big ask,” said Michael Burger, executive director of Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “Courts simply do not have it in their power in the United States to command the entire energy system,” he added.
In Friday’s 2-to-1 decision, a panel of federal appeals court judges in Oregon threw out a lawsuit brought by nearly two dozen children and young adults against the U.S. government, my colleague Brady Dennis reported.
The 21 young people and the advocacy group representing them in court, Our Children’s Trust, sought to compel the government to cut its support for fossil fuels and drawn down greenhouse gas emissions. They originally filed their case in 2015.
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that even though the plaintiffs “made a compelling case that action is needed” to cut emissions, the young people ultimately did not have the legal standing to bring the case, known as Juliana v. United States.
This is the second loss for environmental advocates in a much-watched climate case in as many months. In December, ExxonMobil won its legal battle with the state of New York over accusations the oil and gas company misled shareholders about the financial risks of climate change to its bottom line.
“Courts are still going to have a very vital role to play” in climate change, said Mark N. Templeton, a University of Chicago Law School professor specializing in environmental law. But he added: “The judges seem to think there are limits on this.”