Dismissal of Youth-led Lawsuit Against U.S. Government Climate Inaction Underscores Climate Policy Paralysis

Statement by Ken Kimmell, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Jan 17, 2020

WASHINGTON (January 17, 2020)—The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today dismissed a lawsuit filed in 2015 on behalf of 21 youth plaintiffs who alleged that the U.S. government knowingly failed to protect them from climate change. In his ruling on Juliana v. United States, Circuit Judge Andrew Hurwitz affirmed the need to cut fossil fuel emissions to combat the climate crisis, but ruled that that the court lacked the ability to provide relief by overseeing complex policy decisions. In a forceful dissent, District Judge Josephine Staton countered that given the “irreversibility” of climate impact harms as well as climate policy paralysis, courts should especially be a resource for affected communities.

Below is a statement by Union of Concerned Scientists President Ken Kimmell:

“In a functional democracy, communities facing catastrophic flooding, heat waves and other climate impacts would be able to press elected officials to comprehensively and effectively cut the emissions of heat-trapping gases and reduce the massive harm that we are experiencing now and will experience in the future. But, as District Judge Staton stressed in her dissent, we live in a time where the government has failed to act—in large part due to fossil fuel industry’s outsized influence—despite overwhelming scientific evidence that delaying action will only lock in more severe climate impacts.

“The Justice Department argued in this case that solving the existential threat of climate change is a matter for Congress and the executive branch. This ruling underscores this responsibility. We say to the Trump administration and Congress: We are waiting.

“In the meantime, there is still a clear role for courts to protect communities facing mounting climate costs, which fall squarely on taxpayers’ shoulders. Among other things, courts could order fossil fuel companies to contribute in part to lifesaving climate adaptation measures. There is no reason to wait for our president or legislators to do their jobs.”