Young people are responsible for most climate change cases before US courts

11 August 2014
Gerald Torres

Young people supported by climatologists and other scientists are responsible for most of the climate change cases being handled by courts in the United States of America.

The atmospheric trust cases are asking the courts to compel the government to take meaningful action to protect the atmosphere for current and future generations.

Professor Gerald Torres from Cornell University in New York, a leading figure in critical race theory and environmental law, says there have also been liability suits suggested, and at least one filed, over the effects of climate change.

In an Auckland visit hosted by the Faculty of Law with support from the New Zealand Law Foundation, Professor Torres discussed the range of cases being brought and proposed in the United States, focussing on the atmospheric trust litigation and the public trust doctrine which underlies it.

Professor Torres said an underlying concept of the litigation was more generally the trusteeship function that governments have for their citizens. He argued that trusteeship responsibilities include the atmosphere.

Professor Klaus Bosselmann, Director of the Faculty’s New Zealand Centre for Environmental Law, says Professor Torres gave a lecture on climate change litigation, which showed the importance of combining good legal scholarship with political activism.

“His lecture was well received and led to a vivid discussion with the audience about trusteeship for the atmosphere as an over-arching concept for national governments, including New Zealand, and in international law,” Professor Bosselmann said.