Yesterday, advocates, human rights and conservation organizations, including WITNESS, came together to file an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to support young people suing the federal government for not acting to reverse climate change. Late last month, attorneys for five youth and two non-profit organization appellants filed their opening brief in the D.C. Circuit court arguing that they have a constitutional right to the benefits of a protected atmosphere and a safe climate system.

The youths’ lawsuit was filed with the help of our partners at Our Children’s Trust, which is orchestrating a game-changing, youth driven legal campaign based upon the Public Trust Doctrine, a legal principle requiring governments to protect and maintain essential natural resources. WITNESS co-produced a series of videos with OCT to support this effort called Stories of TRUST.

The youth seek a comprehensive federal Climate Recovery Plan, which would reduce U.S. emissions based on the prescription that Dr. James Hansen and other leading international climate scientists say will restore our atmosphere to 350 parts per million (ppm) by the end of the century. While the campaign is international in scope, the significance of yesterday’s action is stated in the brief itself: “the United States is the single largest historic contributor to climate change, the second largest gross emitter today, and the largest per capita emitter.”

“As a global human rights organization we see how climate change impacts the everyday lives of people all over the world in our work to protect basic human rights. Many people do not immediately see the link,” said Kelly Matheson, Senior Program Manager at WITNESS. She continued:

Climate change causes water shortages, food shortages, disease, loss of livelihoods and forced relocation, and in turn, economic instability and conflict. Perhaps most profoundly, climate change threatens our right to life itself. Last year Hurricane Sandy took lives in my hometown. One year later Typhoon Haiyan has left thousands in the Philippines dead. Next year’s headline will likely be the same, “More die in extreme weather events.” There is a solution if we are willing to listen with the willingness to change.

In addition to WITNESS, the amici curiae supporting the youth include: Michael MacCracken, Ph.D, Protect Our Winters, Global Kids, Inc., Earth Guardians,, Kids Against Fracking, Granny Peace Brigade, Kent Environmental and Community Network, HelpAge International, HelpAge USA, Labor Network for Sustainability, and the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers.

Read the full press release, and follow the campaign at For inquiries or interview requests, please contact: Kelly Matheson, WITNESS, 718-344-7480, kelly [at] witness [dot] org or Julia Olson, Our Children’s Trust, 415-786-4825, julia [at] ourchildrenstrust [dot] org.


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