.. In 1992, countries, including the US, China, India, and all European states (and a total of 189 by 2006) accepted responsibility for addressing climate change. Meeting at the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, they agreed to stabilize greenhouse gases “at a low enough level to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”
The agreement did not specify what level is low enough to prevent such dangerous interference with our climate, but the scientific consensus is that to allow the global temperature to rise to an average of more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels is to risk catastrophe.
.. The first climate litigation to win a positive decision was Urgenda Foundation v. The State of Netherlands, in which a Dutch court ruled, in 2015, that the government must ensure that the country’s emissions are cut by one quarter within five years.
.. Juliana v. United States is by far the most significant climate case to date. If ever a case has deserved to be called “the trial of the century,” this is it.
.. The US is the world’s second-largest greenhouse-gas emitter, and its per capita emissions are about twice those of the largest emitter, China.
.. If we take the view that every person on this planet is entitled to an equal share of the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb our greenhouse-gas emissions, then the US is emitting 3.5 times its fair share. The US emits more greenhouse gases than India, for example, although it has only one-quarter of the population.
Moreover, the principle of equal per capita emissions is generous to the old industrialized countries, because it ignores their historical responsibility for the past emissions that have led to the situation we face today.
.. The plaintiffs claim that their government’s active contribution to climate change has violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. When the government sought to prevent the case from being heard, the federal district court of Oregon issued a historic ruling that “the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.”
.. When Juliana v. United States is appealed to the US Supreme Court, as seems inevitable, the question may no longer be whether the preservation of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights requires “a climate system capable of sustaining human life”; it undeniably does. Instead, the Court will have to decide whether it is willing to heed the scientific evidence that the actions of the US government are indeed jeopardizing the survival of human life on our planet. If it is, even the most conservative justices will find it difficult to escape the conclusion that the government is in violation of the US Constitution.