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12AD.10.3 Juliana v. United States, First Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief

United States District Court, District of Oregon - Eugene Division

Juliana v. United States, First Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, United States District Court, District of Oregon - Eugene Division, filed 10 September 2015.

In 2015, 21 young people, ranging in age from 8 to 19, sued the federal government for its role in contributing to climate change. The case is known as Juliana v. United States. The excerpt above is from the facts and argument presented by the Juliana plaintiffs to the court in their effort to substantially change federal policy regarding the use of fossil fuels. The Juliana plaintiffs argue that the federal government is responsible for damages caused by climate change because the government has known about the harmful effects of carbon dioxide emissions for over 50 years but has continued to promote and allow the extensive use of fossil fuels, which increase carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

How do the facts you read above support the Juliana plaintiffs’ argument that their constitutional rights protecting life, liberty, and property have been harmed? What has the federal government done, or not done, that makes the Juliana plaintiffs seek to hold the government responsible for climate change? What specifically do the Juliana plaintiffs want to stop the government from doing? Why do you think these youth decided to turn to the judicial branch of the government to address climate change, rather than the legislative or executive branches?

Though the federal government has been aware of the threat of climate change since at least 1965, and the United Nations began addressing the challenge in 1972, the Juliana plaintiffs argue that not enough is being done to limit the negative impacts of a changing climate. The Juliana plaintiffs have taken the unusual step of turning to the courts to demand federal action, disappointed with legislative and executive responses to climate change. The plaintiffs’ case aims to prove that the federal government’s actions in support of fossil fuel–based energy have directly harmed plaintiffs’ lives and well-being. Some of these plaintiffs, for instance, allege that they have had to leave their homes due to repeated flooding in low-lying areas, or a scarcity of fresh water.

If the case succeeds, the court would require the federal government to create a plan for significantly decreasing the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions to help limit global warming to just one degree Celsius by the year 2100, an internationally agreed-upon goal. You should note that the plaintiffs are very specific about what they want to stop the government from doing.

For over fifty years, the United States of America has known that carbon dioxide (“CO2”) pollution from burning fossil fuels was causing global warming and dangerous climate change, and that continuing to burn fossil fuels would destabilize the climate system on which present and future generations of our nation depend for their wellbeing and survival. Defendants also knew the harmful impacts of their actions would significantly endanger Plaintiffs, with the damage persisting for millennia. Despite this knowledge, Defendants continued their policies and practices of allowing the exploitation of fossil fuels. ...

Since 1990, Defendants have known that CO2 levels in the atmosphere must be stabilized at or below 350 parts per million (“ppm”) in order to protect our nation’s climate system and that a swift transition away from fossil fuels was necessary. ...

... Defendants have known of the unusually dangerous risks of harm to human life, liberty, and property that would be caused by continued fossil fuel burning. ... Defendants have willfully ignored this impending harm. By their exercise of sovereign authority over our country’s atmosphere and fossil fuel resources, they permitted, encouraged, and otherwise enabled continued exploitation, production, and combustion of fossil fuels, and so, by and through their aggregate actions and omissions, Defendants deliberately allowed atmospheric CO2 concentrations to escalate to levels unprecedented in human history, resulting in a dangerous destabilizing climate system for our country and these Plaintiffs. ...

Through its policies and practices, the Federal Government bears a higher degree of responsibility than any other individual, entity, or country for exposing Plaintiffs to the present dangerous atmospheric CO2 concentration. In fact, the United States is responsible for more than a quarter of global historic cumulative CO2 emissions. ...

Absent immediate, meaningful action by Defendants to cease their permitting, authorizing, subsidizing, and supporting fossil fuel exploitation, production, and consumption, and otherwise to act to phase-out CO2 emissions, Plaintiffs would suffer increasingly severe consequences. By 2100, these Youth Plaintiffs (many of whom should still be alive), and future generations, would live with a climate system that is no longer conducive to their survival.