As the frequency of natural disasters caused by climate change continues to increase throughout the world, there is a growing global movement to use the power of law to bring about solutions to climate change issues. There is a growing number of “climate lawsuits” being filed against companies and governments on the grounds that being affected or harmed by climate change is a violation of human rights or that worsening climate change is due to the inadequate environmental measures of governments.
The court case Held v. Montana, which has been led by youth in the US state of Montana, is one such climate case, and on August 14, the judge hearing the case ruled in full favor of the young plaintiffs.
Montana court’s landmark climate ruling
Held v. Montana is a court case in which 16 youth plaintiffs claimed that the state was violating their right to a “clean and healthy environment” by promoting the use of fossil fuels. Held over a two-week trial beginning June 12, 2023, the plaintiffs testified that climate change was seriously impacting their health and their lives, and submitted various data and reports as evidence for their claims. On August 14, the court ruled that provisions of the state’s Environmental Policy Act prevented the state from considering the climate impacts of fossil fuel-related projects, adversely affecting the state’s environment and the youth plaintiffs. Considering that Montana has the nation’s largest coal reserves and the importance of coal to the state’s economy, this ruling in full support of the plaintiffs in the nation’s first constitutional lawsuit and first youth-led climate change lawsuit is very significant.
We hope this landmark ruling will encourage young people around the world to bring up and debate in court important issues like climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, along with other important climate change-related issues, in order to protect their future.
Increase in climate litigation
According to findings by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (published in July 2023), the total number of climate change cases has more than doubled from 884 in 2017 to 2,180 in 2022. Most cases are filed in the United States, but climate lawsuits are expanding around the world. This indicates that climate litigation is becoming an increasingly important element in promoting climate change countermeasures and ensuring climate justice.
Climate cases in Japan
In Japan, citizens have filed lawsuits in Kobe and Yokosuka to try to prevent the construction of coal-fired power plants that would have a significant impact on climate change.
In Kobe, there have been two climate court cases: a civil lawsuit, and an administrative lawsuit.
In the civil case, local residents filed a lawsuit against Kobe Steel, its subsidiary Kobelco Power Kobe No. 2, and Kansai Electric Power Company, which purchases electricity produced at the Kobe coal-fired power plant, demanding a stop to the construction and operation of a coal-fired power plant. In the administrative lawsuit, plaintiffs are demanding that the government rescind the final environmental impact assessment (EIA) report for the power plant.
In both cases, the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction against construction and operation of the new coal-fired power plant was denied. The plaintiff’s appeal in the administrative lawsuit was dismissed by the Supreme Court, but the plaintiffs are planning to appeal the civil lawsuit. For more information, please visit the Kobe climate case website.
In Yokosuka, residents filed an administrative lawsuit to seek the cancellation of METI’s notice on the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report for a large-scale coal-fired power plant being constructed by JERA (a joint venture of TEPCO and Chubu Electric Power Company). While the trial in the Tokyo District Court continues, JERA has already started operation of the Yokosuka power plant, ignoring the opposition of the local residents. For more information, please visit the Yokosuka climate case website.
Attempting to resolve climate change issues in court has been very difficult in Japan. Although there are significant differences in laws and court procedures from country to country, in light of the fact that climate litigation is recognized as one method to change climate change measures in the U.S. and other countries amid the accelerating climate crisis, Japan needs a judicial system that recognizes the right to live in a safe environment as a human right and allows people to fight when their rights are violated.
Our Children’s Trust (Link)