Kids Win the Right to Sue Federal Government Over Climate Change in Landmark Ruling

"Our planet and our generation don't have time to waste," plaintiff Victoria Barrett says

Photo: Robin Loznak

A group of 21 young Americans has officially won the right to sue the U.S. government over global warming.

In a groundbreaking decision announced Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken denied the government’s motion to dismiss the suit that demands increased efforts to curb emissions that cause climate change.

“It’s clear Judge Aiken gets what’s at stake for us,” Victoria Barrett, 17, and one of 21 plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement to PEOPLE. “Our planet and our generation don’t have time to waste. If we continue on our current path, my school in Manhattan will be underwater in 50 years.”

Aiken ruled that the suit which was brought against the U.S. government by a group of young people aged 9 to 20, along with climate scientist James E. Hansen, could move forward to trial in federal court as it “adequately alleged infringement of a fundamental right.”

The suit is based on the argument that the federal government has known for decades that carbon pollution destabilizes the climate in a way that puts future generations in “significant” danger but has taken no action to curb it. The group alleges this failure to act has endangered their rights to life, liberty, property and vital public trust resources.

“I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society,” Aiken wrote in her ruling.

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The case, Juliana v. United States, will go to trial in 2017. A ruling in the group’s favor would be a landmark decision on climate change and open a path for a court-mandated, science-based plan to reduce emissions in the U.S.

“We are moving to trial and I’m looking forward to having the world see the incredible power my generation holds,” Barrett continued. “We are going to put our nation on a science-based path toward climate stabilization.”

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