Young people are increasingly taking governments to court for their failure to meaningfully abate climate change. They argue that states have a responsibility under domestic and international law to protect, respect and fulfil the rights of children against worsening climate change. Such cases form a unique subset of rights-based climate change litigation due to their emphasis on intergenerational equity. Young people are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis and face distinct age-related vulnerabilities and adverse discrimination linked to the impacts of climate change. The unequal burden that young people bear in this context is also shaped by the social, legal, political and economic structures that marginalize their interests and voices in societies around the world. To reclaim their agency in the face of the crisis, young people are increasingly mobilizing against policies and actions that perpetuate the status quo. They do so through participation in activist efforts, and as we discuss in this paper, litigation cases. As of May 2021, the Sabin Centre for Climate Change Law’s database of climate litigation included 32 youth-focused cases in 14 countries. Our article takes stock of this wave of climate litigation and offers both a typology for and analysis of the types of claims in this jurisprudence. We identify three types of youth-focused cases, including those focused on: (1) insufficient efforts to reduce carbon emissions and meet climate commitments; (2) insufficient efforts to implement mitigation and adaptation measures; and (3) specific regulatory approvals that are expected to have dramatic climate impacts. We also identify a worrisome trend in which youth-focused cases are dismissed due to a lack of justiciability or standing at a procedural stage. We suggest that courts’ refusal to deal with the merits of these claims undermines not just the agency of young people, but also constitutes a denial of their rights to redress for human rights infringements resulting from worsening climate change.
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