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UN Climate Change

Related Lawyers: Michael D. Hausfeld, Scott Gilmore, Richard S. Lewis, Ingrid Gubbay, Wessen Jazrawi, Jeanette Bayoumi, Kimberly Fetsick, Dr. Christopher Unseld, Johannes Wick
Related Practice Areas: Civil and Human Rights, Environmental Threats, Human Rights and Environmental Disputes, Mass Torts and Public Health Threats

On September 23, 2019, sixteen young people from around the world, represented by Hausfeld and Earthjustice, submitted a groundbreaking legal complaint to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”) against five of the world’s largest economies – Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey – for their global role in perpetuating the climate crisis. The UN CRC is a body of experts that monitors compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child – the most widely ratified human rights treaty. This is the first time that a group of children has ever brought a human rights complaint to the CRC addressing climate change, and this is the first case before this panel of experts to present the question of the human rights, and specifically the children’s rights, impact of climate change.

The complaint alleges that the five named respondent countries, all G20 members, have known about the risks of climate change for decades. Despite that knowledge, they are failing to curb emissions, while continuing to promote fossil fuels. The climate crisis was caused and is being perpetuated by the actions and inactions of all states, but without the leadership of the respondents, the global effort to solve the climate crisis cannot succeed. The youth petitioners are between the ages of 8 and 17 and hail from Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Palau, Marshall Islands, Nigeria, South Africa, Sweden, Tunisia, and the United States.

In making their complaint, the petitioners narrate the impact the climate crisis has had on their own lives. They are experiencing firsthand the threats that come with every fraction of a degree of global warming. Forest fires have burned their homes and poisoned their air; their exposure to infectious diseases is rising; their water supplies are threatened and limited by drought; storms have flooded their homes and schools; rising sea levels are drowning their homelands; and changing temperatures are destroying their food sources and threatening indigenous traditions and livelihoods. More information on the petitioners as well as a copy of the filed petition can be found here: https://childrenvsclimatecrisis.org/

The complaint was brought before the CRC because of the global scope of climate change, the fact that children are among the most vulnerable to the life-threatening impacts of climate change, and the need to have a unique forum that could address the issue beyond the limits of domestic courts. Indeed, no single domestic court alone could provide a remedy addressing the global nature of the climate crisis because one state alone, through its domestic courts, cannot issue a decision addressing another state’s policies that is binding on that other state. The complaint attempts to integrate principles of human rights law and environmental law to overcome the various obstacles to making climate change a justiciable issue.

The Hausfeld case team was proud to host fourteen of the sixteen petitioners in New York City in September ahead of the filing of the petition on September 23. On September 23, the petitioners presented the complaint at a press conference hosted by UNICEF, and articulated why this filing was important to each of them and how climate change has impacted and continues to impact their lives. The press conference can be viewed here, recorded by UNICEF.

On November 20, the CRC registered the complaint on behalf of the Petitioners, and has also provided the respondent countries an opportunity to respond. 

The global case team is: Michael Hausfeld, Scott Gilmore, Richard Lewis, Ingrid Gubbay, Wessen Jazrawi, Jeanette Bayoumi, Kimberly Fetsick, Christopher Unseld, and Johannes Wick.

In addition to the CRC complaint, Hausfeld continues to support the advocacy of the petitioners. On December 9, 2019, Hausfeld sent a letter to the governments of Norway and Canada warning them that their support for oil and gas expansion breaches their commitments under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

This material is distributed by Hausfeld on behalf of Alexandria Villasenor, Carl Smith, Catarina Lorenzo, Chiara Sacchi, Greta Thunberg, Iris Duquesne, Raina Ivanova, Raslene Joubali, Debby Adegbile, Ayakha Melithafa, Ridhima Pandey, Carlos Manuel, Litokne Kabua, David Ackley III, and Ranton Anjain. Additional information is available at the Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.

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