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How youth climate court cases became a global trend

How youth climate court cases became a global trend

From the rise of the youth plaintiff to greenwashing claims, Climate Home News explores the major trends in climate litigation

This week Germany’s supreme court ruled that the country’s climate law is partly unconstitutional and ordered the government to draw up clear emissions reduction targets after 2030.

The case was brought by nine youth climate activists who argued that the law in its current form violates their right to a humane future, as it does not go far enough to reduce emissions and limit global temperature rise to 1.5C.

German energy minister Peter Altmaier described the ruling as “big and meaningful” and said it was “epochal” for the rights of young people and climate protection.

Climate litigation is a maturing field. Over the past decade, lawyers have tested several strategies for challenging climate harm or inaction through the courts.

Here Climate Home News explores which legal avenues have been successful and which approaches have failed.

Human rights

Lawsuits that argue that governments have a human rights obligation to avoid dangerous levels of global warming are becoming increasingly widespread and successful, said Joana Setzer, a research fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London.

The most pivotal climate lawsuit in the past decade, the landmark Urgenda case in the Netherlands, centred on human rights.

In 2019, the Dutch Supreme Court ordered the government to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by the end of 2020, compared to 1990 levels, as its minimum fair share to tackle climate change.

The case was brought by the Urgenda Foundation, a climate group representing the interests of 900 Dutch citizens who argued that the government was putting them in “unacceptable danger”, by setting an insufficient emissions reduction goal of 14-17% by 2020, from 1990 levels.