Our Children’s Trust and Kids v. Global Warming: Atmospheric Trust Litigation (ATL)

By December 4, 2013 December 17th, 2013 Solutions

In May 2011 it began. Lawsuits in 50 states and the Federal Government have been filed to force the states and President Obama to implement comprehensive Climate Recovery Plans or rules on greenhouse gas emissions. The lawsuits were implemented largely by iMatter – Kids v Global Warming and Our Children’s Trust.The basis for the suits are two legal principles: the Public Trust Doctrine “the air, rivers, groundwater, lakes the sea and the shores of the sea and our sky should be protected for the benefit of all, and Intergenerational Justice “that the current generation cannot use resources to the detriment of future generations. 

From the iMatter. /Children’s Trust press release: “On May 22, 2013, federal District Court Judge Robert Wilkins of Washington, D.C. decided not to reconsider his decision that the federal government has no  constitutional responsibility to protect the atmosphere on behalf of present and future generations of Americans. This decision follows a decision by the same judge issued one year ago on May 31, 2012, when the court granted motions by the federal government and the fossil fuel industry to dismiss the case. (Alec L. v. Jackson, D.D.C., No. 11-CV-022235)

On November 12th an appeal was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Seven Amicus Briefs were filed:

Document #1465822: Eleven prominent international climate scientists including James Hansen Director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Document #1469909: 34 legal scholars

Document #1465692: Six faith groups

Document #1465842: Six Native American Community Groups and six individuals.

Document #1465846: Two retired Admirals and General.

Plus two others: Document #1465851, Document #1465849

The Alaska supreme Court met in in the Barrow High School auditorium in  Barraow, AK on the Arctic Ocean on October 3 to hear the Alaska case and have not yet ruled. The Children’s Trust press release tells us: “The youth’s constitutional claims may be, what some scholars call, our best shot at a comprehensive approach to address the climate crisis, in contrast to a piecemeal approach of sector-by-sector greenhouse gas regulations. The youths’ case seeks to establish across-the-board protection of the atmosphere for current and future generations.”

The Iowa case was turned down in May 2013 and is being appealed.

In August 2012 Texas  ruled the sky is a part of the public commons and that all other natural resources are protected under the Public Trust Doctrine and the Texas Constitution. This may open the door to a positive ruling that could form precedent for the rest of the lawsuits. The case is awaiting a ruling  while other ongoing litigation is being pursued.

From the Kansas Suite Legal update page on Children’s Trust, June 4, 2013: “The trial court dismissed 14-year-old Samantha Farb’s atmospheric trust case for “failure to exhaust administrative remedies” first. In its opinion, the court indicated that youth should first ask their government to take action before coming to court. In response to the court’s suggestion, Samantha pledged to formally petition the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to make rules requiring statewide reductions in CO2 emissions consistent with what current scientific analysis deems necessary to protect the lives and property of citizens, including future generations. Read press release about Samantha’s pledge here.

August 23, 2013 New Mexico case: awaiting a briefing schedule from the court.

The Oregon case will be heard by the Oregon Court of Appeals on January 16, 2014.

The Washington Case is awaiting a decision after being heard November 18.

The Pennsylvania petition for rulemaking for a 6% annual emissions reduction is pending. Minnesota and Alabama rulemaking petitions have been denied are not pursuing appeals.


Paper: Hansen et al., Assessing Dangerous Climate Change, Required Reductions of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature, PLOS ONE, 120313.



A brighter tomorrow: climate change, child rights and intergenerational justice, 19 pages, December 16, 2009.



From the UNICEF report, page 6, Principles and Standards, first paragraph: “It is inevitable that climate change litigation will continue in the future, and with increasing success if official inaction continues in the face of mounting evidence of harm. Yet human rights not only provide a basis for litigation ex post facto; they also set out a strong moral framework and guiding principles that resonate across different cultures and value systems.”

Legal Updates: http://ourchildrenstrust.org/US/Federal-Lawsuit