Gaveling for Green: How Kids Are Suing to Save the Planet

In Articles by hmtannenbaum

Climate Crisis and the Fight for Our Children’s Future

The effects of climate change are no longer distant possibilities—they are stark realities. From more frequent and destructive wildfires to rising sea levels and extreme weather events, the planet is in a state of crisis. With the threat of climate change weighing heavily on current and future generations, young people are taking the lead in holding governments accountable. Enter the Children’s Trust lawsuits, a wave of legal actions spurred by the belief that governments have a constitutional duty to protect a safe and stable climate.

What are Children’s Trust Lawsuits?

The Children’s Trust movement relies on the legal concept of the “public trust doctrine.” This doctrine states that governments hold essential natural resources, like air and water, in trust for the benefit of the people, including future generations.

Children’s Trust lawsuits bring youth plaintiffs to the forefront. They argue that governments, by failing to adequately address climate change, are violating the public trust doctrine and the fundamental rights of young people and future generations to a habitable planet. These lawsuits call for science-based climate action plans to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prioritize climate resilience.

The Successes and Challenges

Children’s Trust lawsuits have achieved groundbreaking successes around the globe. Notable landmark cases include:

Juliana v. United States: This ongoing federal lawsuit was initiated in 2015 by 21 young Americans arguing the U.S. government’s actions around fossil fuel policies violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property.

Held v. Montana: A recent victory in Montana marked a historic moment in youth climate lawsuits. In 2023, a state judge ruled that Montana’s government violated young people’s constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment.

Adding to these cases, in December 2023, 18 California children filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) arguing the agency has failed to take sufficient action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, thereby violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. The lawsuit highlights the particular vulnerability of children to the effects of climate change, such as extreme heat and wildfires, and argues the EPA has a legal obligation to protect them.

Though not all such cases have resulted in direct victories, they have raised unprecedented awareness about youth climate activism and put governments on notice that they must take action to reverse the devastating effects of climate change.

Looking to the Future

The Children’s Trust movement continues to gain traction.  With lawsuits active in states across the U.S. and countries around the world, youth-led climate litigation is rapidly evolving. While future decisions will significantly shape the trajectory of climate action, one thing is certain: children and young adults are refusing to stand by idly as their futures are jeopardized by government inaction.

The Children’s Trust lawsuits send a powerful message: youth will not be ignored. The urgent need to drastically reduce emissions and build climate resilience is undeniable. These lawsuits push for a legal framework that prioritizes the best interests of future generations by creating robust, enforceable climate legislation.

How to Get Involved

If you want to be part of the movement, here’s how you can get involved:

Learn More: Visit the Our Children’s Trust website:

Spread the Word: Share information on social media, educate your peers, family, and community.

Support Youth Activists: Attend climate rallies, and support organizations dedicated to youth climate action.

The climate crisis may be daunting, but the actions of these brave young people offer hope. The future rests on our ability to act now.