Legal fights, especially the ones that drag out for a long time, are lead to citizens getting proper access to their rights. As the battles gain popularity and support over time, they build up steam and find ways to carry on until their voices are truly heard and laws change. In a similar way to how Civil Rights were won in the 60s or same-sex marriages became legal, children are taking up the fight for the planet and the right to make it livable for generations to come.
While Juliana v. US is paving the way in the United States, there are other places around the world where changes is happening. Children of Uganda took to the courts in 2012 when its government failed to comply with international climate-change policies. Later in 2015, youth in the Netherlands won their case that the Dutch government was negligent in not properly regulating and minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and its overall footprint on the environment. Two other cases with children in Pakistan and India are awaiting further action for their claims of environmental injustices. Earlier in September of 2017, Portuguese kids swarmed the Internet to begin crowdfunding to support a lawsuit against 47 governments in the European Court of Human Rights.
As Juliana v. US awaits its day in court, the children plaintiffs are in good company around the world, fighting for the ability to live long healthy lives despite decades of actions to the contrary.
One of the world’s top economists has written an expert court report that forcefully supports a group of children and young adults who have sued the federal government for failing to act on climate change.
Joseph Stiglitz, who was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize for economics in 2001 and has written extensively about environmental economics and climate change, makes an economic case that the costs of maintaining a fossil fuel-based economy are “incalculable,” while transitioning to a lower-carbon system will cost far less.
EXPERT REPORT OF JOSEPH E. STIGLITZ, PH.D.
University Professor, Columbia University
Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana; Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh M., through his Guardian Tamara Roske-Martinez; et al.,
The United States of America; Donald Trump,
in his official capacity as President of the United States; et al.,
I have formed four primary conclusions in this case, the bases for which are set forth more fully below:
- Scientific evidence shows further incremental increases in global temperature will lead to disproportionately greater costs imposed on our society. This has important consequences for how Defendants’ actions harm the Youth Plaintiffs and Affected Children more generally. Continuation of the national fossil fuel-based energy system by Defendants is causing imminent, significant, and irreparable harm to the Youth Plaintiffs and Affected Children more generally. This kind of environmental harm, by its nature, cannot be adequately remedied by money damages and is often permanent or at least of long duration, i.e., irreparable. There is a point at which, once this harm occurs, it cannot be undone at any reasonable cost or in any reasonable period of time. Based on the best available science, our country is close to approaching that point.
- Defendants’ continuing support and perpetuation of a national fossil fuel-based energy system and continuing delay in addressing climate change is saddling and will continue to saddle Youth Plaintiffs with an enormous cost burden, as well as tremendous risks, which is causing substantial harm to the economic and personal well-being and security of Youth Plaintiffs. These costs and risks will be borne over each ensuing year that progress towards remediation is not undertaken by Defendants. Such costs and risks arise both from damage caused by accumulated greenhouse gas emissions and from the required outlays on future remediation and adaptation efforts, which grow more expensive as the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increases. There are particularly consequential risks arising from the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change, which increase each year that Defendants defer action on greenhouse-gas mitigation efforts.
- Moving the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels is both feasible and beneficial, especially over the next 30 years (as technological and scientific evidence discussed below makes clear). Defendants could facilitate this transition with standard economic tools for dealing with externalities, for example a tax or levy on carbon (a price on the externality) and the elimination of subsidies on fossil-fuel production. Relatedly, decisions concerning the transition off of fossil fuels can be reached more systematically and efficiently by revising current government discounting practices, the methodology by which future costs are compared to present costs. Current and historical government decision-making practices based on incorrect discount rates lead to inefficient and inequitable outcomes that impose undue burdens on Youth Plaintiffs and future generations. Basing decisions (policies, programs, and actions) on appropriate discount rates would help minimize the burdens that Defendants’ current policies place on Youth Plaintiffs and future generations. That is to say, if Defendants’ discounting policies and practices more accurately reflected the expected changes in relative prices over time (and their distribution, implicitly putting a lower discount rate on climate change benefits), the basis for Defendants’ policy-making decisions would more closely align with economic principles and yield more efficient outcomes.
- Based on this reasoning, I conclude that Defendants can and should take meaningful actions to reduce GHG emissions from fossil fuels and mitigate climate change impacts now rather than defer action to some future date. Acting now will yield benefits for both Defendants and Youth Plaintiffs and reduce harm to Youth Plaintiffs, and the costs of mitigating climate change now are manageable. Defendants could make meaningful progress on climate change mitigation by acting today in accordance with the best available science. Moreover, Defendants meeting their constitutional and public trust obligations to redress climate change would improve societal well-being by any reasonable economic standard. In fact, some of the actions that Defendants could take to meet these obligations would actually have a negative cost. That is to say, in the long run, the net present value of benefits to society would exceed the net present value of costs that society would have to incur. This is referred to as Kaldor–Hicks efficiency in standard economic analysis, typically a hallmark of sound policymaking, from an economic perspective, whereby the net benefits of a policy change outweigh the net costs of such policy change. Thus, if Defendants were to make such changes as are argued for by other of Plaintiffs’ experts, the net societal gain would more than outweigh the net societal loss. In contrast, Defendants’ current policies of perpetuating the fossil fuel-based energy system impose unacceptably high costs and risks on the Youth Plaintiffs specifically and Affected Children more generally, and will continue to do so, well out of portion to the amounts that Defendants save currently by avoiding taking the appropriate actions.
 I understand that the plaintiffs in this litigation are young people, who I will refer to as the “Youth Plaintiffs.” However, my analysis also looks at the impact on other young people who are not named plaintiffs (and as-yet-unborn youth, the so-called future generations), but are just as (or even more) affected, whom I collectively refer to as “Affected Children.” This is a global problem. However, as I discuss below in Section V.B, the U.S. is a significant contributor to GHG emissions, and so actions by the U.S., have a significant impact on these global outcomes.