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How the Landmark Montana Climate Trial Paved The Way For Young Climate Activists

What can I do
CRISIS - Viability of Life on Earth by Alice Kong Global Commons Sep 19th 20234 mins
How the Landmark Montana Climate Trial Paved The Way For Young Climate Activists

In June 2023, young environmental activists were heard for the first time in a US climate trial. In August, the judge ruled in favour of the activists, who accused Montana officials of violating their constitutional right to a healthy environment. The Montana climate trial, many argue, paved the way for young climate activists to overturn policies that explicitly contribute to worsening the climate crisis.  

The young plaintiffs – aged 5 to 22 – first filed a lawsuit against Montana state officials in 2020, marking the first US youth climate trial to ever take place. By doing so, the youth group hoped to show that activism can take place in court, too.  

What Does the Montana Climate Trial Tell Us About the Future of Child Activism? 

As pressing environmental issues continue to worsen and government officials remain complacent, it is up to the youth’s hands to utilise their tightly-knit communities and potential to speak up and advocate against polluting activities and industries responsible for the climate crisis. 

Recently, the United Nations finally recognised the importance of defending youth rights by passing a treaty to help young activists battle climate change in court and making sure that young people have their place in climate advocacy. 

The treaty, which calls environmental degradation a form of structural violence against children, is designed to “remove barriers for children to initiate proceedings themselves.” Judges in courts and authorities such as the UN are currently working alongside young environmentalists to ensure that their voices are heard, while being open-minded and supportive to initiatives that the youth might take in order to solve the issue of climate change.

With governmental authorities and organisations like the UN starting to recognise small underrepresented advocacy groups that have long been considered just an outcry from children, young people will likely be encouraged and more motivated to speak up and join the cause. The hope is also that governments and authorities from around the world will start support youth activism and listen to activists’ voices and calls.

Child Activism on the Rise 

Outside the courts, young activists have been taking climate matters into their own hands, advocating for change and urging governments and polluting companies to take concrete steps to tackle climate change. Children, teenagers, and young adults are now utilising their voices to speak up about climate issues, prompting authorities and government officials to increase their progress and attention on the worsening climate crisis.

One of the most prominent figures of child activism is Greta Thunberg. The 20-year-old activist became TIME’s person of the year in 2019. She first began her activism by frequently skipping classes in high school to participate in protests outside the Swedish Parliament in 2018. Aside from being a prominent individual figure of the fight against climate change, the young activist also recognises the importance of  tackling climate change in a communal manner and has since been able to persuade scientists and environmentalists around the world to join her movement.

Fridays For Future, an international school strike movement that aims to protest against the lack of action around climate change, began in 2018, when Thunberg and her fellow student activists decided to continue their strike until the Swedish policies became aligned with the Paris Agreement. It has since then escalated into a movement that involves 7,500 cities and 14 million people in the world. 

You might also like: Fridays for Future: How Young Climate Activists Are Making Their Voices Heard

What Kind of Environmental Issues Are Youth Activists Targeting?

Looking back at summer 2023 and the endless extreme climate events that battered endless countries around the world, it becomes clear that the role of climate advocates is more important than ever. 

Several heatwaves swept across the globe this summer, with the planet now on track to record its hottest year ever. July 2023 was the hottest ever recorded, with the global mean surface air temperature for the first 23 days standing at 16.95C (62.51) and about 80% of people worldwide being affected by the extreme temperatures.

Sea surface temperatures are also on the rise. In August 2023, the Mediterranean Sea surface temperature peaked at 28.7C (83.6F), the highest in at least four decades. The Mediterranean is home to more than 17,000 species. 

Experts estimate that the world is only about 250 billion tonnes of carbon emissions away from reaching the key limit temperature increase of 1.5C. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that carbon dioxide levels peaked in May this year. To combat the rapidly worsening situation, governments around the world have formed the Net Zero Coalition, which was introduced to cut greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible.

As of right now, studies found that about 90% of the assessed net-zero plans are unlikely to be achieved. India, Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates – this year’s COP28 host, are among the countries most behind in terms of achieving their targets. 

The climate crisis is reaching a critical point, with escalating temperatures, extreme weather events, and biodiversity loss, making the role of climate activists more important than ever. The actions taken today will determine the severity of the impacts future generations will face. Youth activists bring a powerful force for change and play a crucial role in shaping a sustainable and just future.

You might also like: 10 Young Climate Activists Leading the Way on Global Climate Action

About the Author

Alice Kong

Alice Kong is currently a summer intern at Earth.Org after her first year of education at the University of Hong Kong pursuing a Bachelor of Journalism and Media Studies. She has an interest in the editorial industry and commentary on environmental and political issues as well as local news reporting in Hong Kong. Seeing her being in the journalism industry in the future, she hopes to communicate thought-provoking and underrepresented ideas throughout her news reporting and storytelling.

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