By Bradley Freedman, Law Clerk at Our Children's Trust
Saving the atmosphere from the ravages of climate change is a global imperative. You might think this would make it easy for countries to work together to solve the problem, because everyone in the world has a shared interest in protecting our only home—Earth. Unfortunately, the international community of governments and politicians has failed to reach an effective global agreement that requires every country to do what is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change. Although the world’s governments have not come together at the international level, as demonstrated in the most recent climate talks this fall, this is no excuse for inaction. Governments have the duty to protect current and future generations from the degradation of the atmosphere, and the Global TRUST Campaign is a worldwide effort to support youth who are asking their governments to protect the atmosphere.
Last summer I had the privilege to work on the Global TRUST Campaign as a law clerk for Our Children’s Trust (OCT) in Eugene, Oregon and have continued to volunteer my time to the effort throughout the fall. As a law student at the University of Kansas (KU), my studies have focused on international law, and my passion for international environmental law led me to OCT. After spending my first two years of law school doing legal research, reading, and writing in the classroom, I jumped at the chance to get out of the classroom and actually work as an environmental advocate. It turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of my life. In law school, students are too often taught to memorize rules with little regard to why these rules exist in the first place, or whether the rules even should exist. But at OCT, I had the opportunity to use my legal skills to advocate for an effort that I care passionately about. As a bonus, I gained immense knowledge and experience that will help me a more effective advocate when I graduate and continue my legal career.
Because climate change affects the entire planet and young people’s legal rights are at stake the world over, the TRUST Campaign is necessarily a worldwide effort. As part of the campaign, I have worked with talented and passionate lawyers in North America, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. I also performed research about various countries, delving into their various legal systems and environmental and human rights protection regimes. Additionally, I examined the treaties and international agreements that espouse our shared aspirations for a livable planet.
I also realized there has never been a more promising time for the world’s lawyers to work with each other across borders in a common effort. Thanks to the Global TRUST Campaign, youth—with the help of local attorneys—are taking their governments to court to compel their leaders to take meaningful action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and take other actions, such as reforestation.
Young people have so many things to deal with in their daily lives that few people would begrudge them if they refused to take on the extra burden on advocating for protection of the atmosphere. Yet I discovered that there are young people all over the world who are willing to stand up and make their voices heard. They speak not only for themselves, but for future generations who deserve a livable planet with a healthy atmosphere. Some of these youth come from economically rich countries like the U.S., but many of them come from poorer countries. No matter where they come from, these youth give lie to the idea that protecting the environment is a luxury. It is a necessity. Remarkably, young people often understand this urgency more than adults. Their youth means they have not been ground down by the status quo.
Preventing catastrophic climate change requires some sacrifices from those who profit from the status quo. Yet these sacrifices are remarkably small compared to the devastating impacts of a warmer planet. Indeed, cutting the emission of greenhouse gases and adding forestland offer tremendous opportunities in the long run that dwarf the short-term sacrifices. Thankfully, the global battle to preserve the atmosphere does not require guns, tanks, or bombs. It merely requires governments to fulfill their preexisting legal duties so that future generations can have a clean, healthy planet to live on.
The rule of law cannot depend only on attorneys and lawmakers—it requires active citizens to demand the law’s enforcement. Youth all over the world are standing up with the Global TRUST Campaign to demand that their governments take action to mitigate the effects of climate change. If these young people are brave enough to stand up for the planet, the adults who make and enforce the laws must learn to be just as brave.