Climate Change

Alaska SC hears young activists' lawsuit against fossil fuel policy

The state’s energy policy is violating right to a safe climate, argue 16 young climate activists

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 10 October 2019
The children and youth outside the Alaska Supreme Court for the hearing. Photo: Our Children’s Trust__

The Alaska Supreme Court on October 9, 2019, heard a lawsuit filed by 16 children and young adults, accusing the state of violating their constitutional right to a safe and stable climate by encouraging the use of fossil fuels, the Nature reported.

The lawsuit Sinnok vs State of Alaska, filed in 2017, alleged that an energy policy enacted in 2010 that promotes fossil-fuel development has spiked greenhouse gas emissions, causing widespread damages to the environment in Alaska. The petitioners ranged from seven to 22 in age.

If atmospheric carbon dioxide level is not limited, the impact of climate change will be catastrophic, the lawsuit claimed.

It also cited recent examples of high surface temperatures, changes in rainfall and snowfall patterns, rising seas, storm surge flooding, thawed permafrost, coastal erosion, violent storms and increased wildfires to show the impact of human-induced climate change. 

The state has not taken sufficient steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions and have also enacted a policy that encourages the use of fossil fuels in the state, Attorney Andrew Welle who represented the children, was quoted as saying to the SC by the Anchorage Daily News.

The law which says fossil fuel development is an official state policy must be declared invalid, Welle argued.

While the government is actively promoting fossil fuels, it is the job of the court to “review the constitutionality of laws and policies that are being implemented by the state, and that are putting peoples’ lives and homes in danger,” said Julia Olson, executive director of Our Children’s Trust, a non-profit group in Eugene, Oregon, that is aiding the plaintiffs, the Nature reported.

The litigation was dismissed in 2018, by a Superior Court Judge, as the petitioners “failed to show what state policy directly contributed to climate change”, the Juneau Empire had reported. The children then filed an appeal in the SC.

The SC will determine whether the lawsuit can go to trial, and could take months, media reports suggested.

Alaska has the fourth-highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions, according to a United States Department of Environmental Conservation report.

A similar lawsuit was filed by children in 2011. It argued that the state had violated their rights by not limiting greenhouse-gas emissions. It was dismissed by SC in 2014 because it did not challenge specific actions by the government.

Children around the world are actively participating in climate issues. Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg along with 15 other children, recently, submitted a complaint to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. They claimed that Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey have violated their human rights by failing to adequately address climate change.

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