Lawsuit filed against U.S. Federal government over climate change

May 9, 2011

A lawsuit  filed last Wednesday against the U.S. federal government by a group called Our Children’s Trust alleges that key government agencies have failed to confront a human-induced global climate crisis and, by their actions, have caused, approved and allowed too many carbon emissions into the Earth’s atmosphere. No similar litigation has been attempted in Canada, though Canadian courts have previously declined to enforce compliance with Kyoto Protocol obligations.

The suit was filed in the United States District Court, Northern District of California by members of the coalition group, Our Children’s Trust. The plaintiffs, which include several minors, found their case on the “Public Trust Doctrine”, which posits that federal officials have a fiduciary duty to hold the country’s vital natural resources such as the atmosphere in trust for present and future generations of citizens. They argue that the federal government has a mandatory duty to affirmatively preserve and protect the nation’s trust assets from damage or loss, and not to use these assets in a manner that causes injury to the trust beneficiaries, present and future. The plaintiffs are seeking equitable remedies as they argue that monetary damages alone are inadequate to remedy their injuries.

According to news reports , similar public trust lawsuits are being filed against states across the U.S. However, several American commentators are not optimistic regarding the plaintiff’s chances of success, particularly in light of recent comments from the U.S. Supreme Court which seem sceptical of similar climate change litigation founded on public nuisance.

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