16 young people file landmark petition for climate action under the U.N. Rights of the Child

On September 23, climate activist Greta Thunberg made an emotional, unforgettable speech to the on the U.N. Climate Summit in New York City. The full Youtube video is here ;  her words are reproduced by The Guardian in an Opinion Piece titled “If world leaders choose to fail us, my generation will never forgive them”, and stating: “We are in the middle of a climate breakdown, and all they can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth.”  A summary from The Guardian is here .

petition-kids_michael-rubenstein-800New landmark climate litigation

Also on September 23, Greta Thunberg and fifteen other young people from around the world submitted a groundbreaking legal petition to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Respondent countries Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey are the largest polluters amongst the 45 countries in the world which have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and agreed to an additional protocol that allows children to petition the UN directly about treaty violations.

The young people contend that these five countries are violating their rights under the Convention by failing to curb emissions and promoting fossil fuels, despite have known about the risks of climate change for decades.  They are asking the U.N. Committee to make specific recommendations to the five nations about what they need to do to meet their treaty obligations, including changing laws to speed up the response to climate change and applying more diplomatic pressure on big polluters like the United States and China.

The complaint was prepared and filed on behalf of the youth petitioners by the international law firm Hausfeld LLP and the nonprofit environmental public interest law organization Earthjustice – whose press release is here . A dedicated website, Children vs Climate Crisis provides biographies and statements from each of the children, a copy of the 101-page Petition ,and a 338-page Appendix  with detailed statements of the impacts on the petitioners’ lives.

The Earthjustice website  is hosting a petition in support of the children’s case.

Unions, tech workers, and even some employers set to Climate Strike in September

Greta ThurnbergThe wave of support for the youth-led Global Climate Strike has become an ocean. The strike has focal points: on September 20 in the U.S. and most of the world, where iconic climate activist Greta Thunberg will participate outside the United Nations headquarters in New York; on September 27, Greta will participate the strike in Montreal . Indicative of the enthusiasm: the New York City School District announced  that its 1.1 million students will be free to leave school on September 20, with parental consent.   The Toronto District School Board also  posted a policy statement on September 16,  allowing students in Toronto with parental permission to be absent on September 27 without academic penalty. Schools and universities in Montreal (excluding McGill University) are also cancelling classes, as reported by CBC.

And as organizers emphasize, “everyone is welcome and everyone is needed”. Parents, teachers, and the general public are all invited to participate in one of the hundreds of strikes around the world.  For information and news about Canadian strikes, check  #Fridays for Future Canada  or #Climate Strike Canada Twitter feeds.

Climate Strike in Canada, September 27:

According to the on-going list being maintained by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy Canadian unions supporting the climate strike include Unifor, The Toronto Labour Council, and the British Columbia Teachers Federation.  Some others are listed below.

unifor-climate-strike sept2019Unifor approved a resolution supporting the Global Climate Week of Action at their constitutional convention in August, and according to TUED,  Unifor’s National President sent a letter to the union’s members on September 10, encouraging them to to “take part in these important events.” Their press release to members is here.

The Toronto Labour Council has posted a statement on the Climate Emergency on their website, calling on Labour Councils across Canada to be involved in local and national efforts on climate action,  including on September 27th. The statement carries on with the initiatives outlined in their 2016 action plan, Greenprint for Greater Toronto: Working Together for Climate Action .  The Toronto Labour Council is part of the S27 coalition of Toronto activists in support of the strike: their list of demands includes “no worker left behind.” The list of members is here .   

The B.C. Teachers Federation Resolution in support of the strike is here  , along with links to teaching resources related to the climate strike.  The Vancouver Secondary Teachers Association also supports the strike and has posted a detailed position to guide teachers on their responsibilities .

The Confederation Syndicats Nationaux in Quebec are planning to coordinate union support across the province, according to their Convention document from June 2019, La Planete s’invite au travail  (in French only).

The Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo has announced their support, and the University’s administration is expected to follow.

Climate Strikes in the United States and other countries: September 20

The Labor Network for Sustainability is working hard to support the Climate Strikes, including publishing a  Climate Strike Special Issue of their newsletter  on September 12.  LNS highlights climate strike initiatives by: Service Employees International Union; Amazon Employees for Climate Action ; American Federation of Teachers; Alameda Labor Council; Labor Rise; and international initiatives, including support from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Also included in the LNS Newsletter: links to resources, including social media tools, for anyone who wants to support the student climate strikers.

An on-going  list of international union  initatives  is maintained by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy.

The International Trade Union Confederation statement regarding the global week of climate action is here , and a video statement  by Sharan Barrow was released on September 11, calling the climate strike as a “gamechanger” and stating that “our 200 million members around the world are totally behind you” .

An  OpEd by Rosa Pavanelli,  General Secretary of the global federation, Public Services International  appeared in Common Dreams on September 12, titled “Unions: We must back the climate strike”, stating “Under sustained attacks from the right across the world, we were forced to fight to preserve our achievements rather than expand social justice, … The climate strike provides an opportunity to break out of our constraints, to reinvigorate our movement, to learn from young people on the front lines, and to redefine what is possible.”  Another Common Dreams article, “We Must Be Bolder Than Ever’: Labor Federation Representing 30 Million Workers Calls on All Unions to Join Global Climate Strike” describes the support from PSI and other unions.

 

The September/October issue of the Greener Jobs Alliance newsletter  reports on similar sentiments amongst unions in the United Kingdom. From the GJA: “Unions will be backing the Youth Climate Strike on 20 September. The plan, agreed at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) annual conference in Brighton (September 10th), is for ‘30-minute workday campaigns’ across the UK. As Jo Grady, University and College Union, told the conference, ‘The Youth Climate Strikes movement is one of the most impressive forms of mass action in recent years.’ The education union’s general secretary asked, ‘How will young people forgive us if we let them down, whilst they are building a movement at this pivotal moment for the world’s climate?’ Or, as Unite’s Steve Turner put it, ‘Unions will back the school strikes on September 20th. If we don’t, we will be seen as irrelevant.’  Support for the climate strike was part of the  composite motion,  Climate Crisis and a Just Transition .

In Australia, government employees of Victoria have been given formal permission to ask for leave or flexible hours on September 20 to attend the climate strike, and the Australian Education Union, representing teachers,  has endorsed the rally.

Technology workers take a stand with a Digital Strike:  

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice  have established themselves in the past with a shareholder’s resolution urging climate action and an Open Letter to their boss, Jeff Bezos. Now they are also supporting the September 20 climate strike: here is their press release  , here is an article in Wired   , and here is an interview by CNBC with one of the strikers.

Other tech workers are joining in support of the climate strike, including Google Workers for Climate Action , Facebook Employees for Climate Action , and Microsoft Workers for Action .

Not only the workers, but some tech companies are joining in, according to a report from Common Dreams  September 16). A planned “digital strike” is being organized  with many of the largest websites in the world participating, including  Imgur, Tumblr, and WordPress, as well as the websites of the Sunrise Movement, Greenpeace, Burton, and many others. An organizational website offers free coding so that these companies can use their social media platforms to spread the climate strike message by donating ad space, or putting climate change banners on their websites which, on September 20th, will expand to  fullscreen so that the website will effectively be “on strike”.

 

Business responsibilities for climate change: U.S. Roundtable nods, U.N. sets a high bar

The U.S. Business Roundtable generated headlines and surprised reaction with the August 19th release of a new Statement of Purpose,  signed by 181 CEO’s of high-profile companies including Amazon, Walmart, Bank of America, Lockheed Martin, Morgan Stanley, UPS, and others. That statement redefines their shared, overarching corporate goal from “delivering value for shareholders” to  promoting “An Economy That Serves All Americans” – including by: “supporting the communities in which we work. We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.” …“Investing in our employees. This starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits. It also includes supporting them through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world. We foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.”

The full Business Roundtable Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, with signatories, is here ;  case studies of member corporations’ social responsibility initiatives are outlined in Building Communities, Meeting Challenges .

A higher bar for business

In contrast to the Business Roundtable statement, scant attention was paid to an international call for human rights and climate justice, released in July. The Safe Climate Report  provides a guide to the obligations of States and the responsibilities of businesses under international agreements and law, regarding the rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation, rights of the child, right to a healthy environment, and rights of vulnerable populations.

The Safe Climate Report, as well as the June 2019 U.N. Report  on extreme poverty and climate change by Philip Alston, are the subject of a September 4 article in The Conversation Canadian edition, “Climate change, poverty and human rights: an emergency without precedent” . The authors state that “The Alston report suggests that the only way to address the human rights dimensions of climate crisis is for states to effectively regulate businesses and for those harmed by climate change to successfully sue responsible companies in court. ….  “the Safe Climate report goes further…”

Specifically, the Safe Climate Report states:

“Businesses must adopt human rights policies, conduct human rights due diligence, remedy human rights violations for which they are directly responsible, and work to influence other actors to respect human rights where relationships of leverage exist. As a first step, corporations should comply with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as they pertain to human rights and climate change…. The five main responsibilities of businesses specifically related to climate change are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their own activities and their subsidiaries; reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their products and services; minimize greenhouse gas emissions from their suppliers; publicly disclose their emissions, climate vulnerability and the risk of stranded assets; and ensure that people affected by business-related human rights violations have access to effective remedies.90 In addition, businesses should support, rather than oppose, public policies intended to effectively address climate change.”  (page 19/20).

Legal obligations of States:

The discussion in this report is also highly relevant to any litigation against states or companies regarding climate change, as well as for the rights of Indigenous peoples and children.  Boyd concludes:

“A failure to fulfill international climate change commitments is a prima facie violation of the State’s obligations to protect the human rights of its citizens. As global average temperatures rise, even more people’s rights will be violated, and the spectre of catastrophic runaway climate chaos increases. There is an immense gap between what is needed to seriously tackle the global climate emergency and what is being done.

A dramatic change of direction is needed. To comply with their human rights obligations, developed States and other large emitters must reduce their emissions at a rate consistent with their international commitments. To meet the Paris target of limiting warming to 1.5°C, States must submit ambitious nationally determined contributions by 2020 that will put the world on track to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45 per cent by 2030 (as calculated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). All States should prepare rights-based deep decarbonization plans intended to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, in accordance with article 4, paragraph 19, of the Paris Agreement. Four main categories of actions must be taken: addressing society’s addiction to fossil fuels; accelerating other mitigation actions; protecting vulnerable people from climate impacts; and providing unprecedented levels of financial support to least developed countries and small island developing States.”

The Safe Climate Report  (formally titled The Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment)  was submitted to the U.N. General Assembly,  written by Canadian human rights scholar and U.N. Special Rapporteur David R. Boyd, whose 2012 book, The Environmental Rights Revolution: A Global Study of Constitutions, Human Rights and the Environment,  stands as a landmark study in environmental law.  The Special Rapporteur’s Report was informed by a consultation period in 2019 in which States and organizations were invited to participate – the few which did are posted here . (Neither  Canada nor the U.S. were among the countries which submitted).  Two noteworthy organizational submissions available are from Canada’s Ecojustice, and Our Children’s Trust (U.S.)  on the issue of intergenerational responsibility and youth. A separate report by Special Rapporteur John Knox discussed The Children’s Rights and the Environment in 2018, and it may be significant the  concluding sentence of the Safe Climate Report uses Greta Thunberg’s famous words,  “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

Youth-led Global Climate Strike in September asks for workers’ support – updated

Greta Thurnberggreta on sailboatWhat a difference a year makes!

 

The #FridaysforFuture youth movement began in August 2018 when the Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, began her solitary climate strike . Since then, millions of students (and their adult supporters) have been inspired to copy her action in almost every country in the world, including Canada.  In May 2019,  Thunberg  and other young climate activists sent out a call for a global climate strikes  in the week of September 20 – 27,  timed to coincide with the United Nations Climate Summit  in New York on September 23.

The youth movement has explicitly called for the support of adults and workers in the global climate strike.   One of the first unions to offer support was Ver.di in Germany, as reported in “Youth and Workers Uniting Behind This Crisis’: German Labor Union Urges 2 Million Members to Join Global Climate Strike  in Common Dreams  (Aug. 6).  The Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) , in cooperation with 350.org,  has issued an appeal on the LNS website, asking unions to participate and providing  A Climate Strike Toolkit for Workers: How to Support the Young People Who Are Striking to Save Our Planet .   The Global Climate Strike website  also offers their own Guide to organizing a workplace climate strike.  The University and Colleges Union in the U.K. is submitting a resolution at the Trades Union Congress  conference in early September, asking all members to support the Sept. 20 action with a 30-minute strike.

victoria facebook postFrom the state of  Victoria Australia,  the Victoria Trades Hall Executive Committee posted on Facebook with their August 9 resolution which endorses the September 20 global climate strike and “commits to organize our members to participate as much as possible.”

Updates, as of August 30: 

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), in its Bulletin #88,  has compiled statements and actions from unions around the world in support of the calls for a “Global Climate Strike”, with ongoing updates here  . For Canada, the TUED list includes the B.C. Teachers Federation , who will be using their September 23 Professional Development Day to hold a “Rally & Teach-in for Climate Justice” in Victoria; and the Toronto and District Labour Council is included for its endorsement of the global strike at the General Delegates Meeting on August 1, 2019.

The Toronto Labour Council has posted a statement on the Climate Emergency on their website, calling on Labour Councils across Canada to be involved in local and national efforts on climate action,  including on September 27th. The statement carries on with the initiatives outlined in their 2016 action plan, Greenprint for Greater Toronto: Working Together for Climate Action . Not included in the TUED list, but also from Canada:  the Confederation Syndicats Nationaux in Quebec are planning to coordinate union support across the province, according to their Convention document from June 2019, La Planete s’invite au travail  (in French only).

Management attitudes to Climate Strikes: Workers’ strike will reveal if firms really care about climate change” in The Irish Times (July 8) reports on the results of a journalist’s informal emailed survey to 20 global companies, asking about their company policies concerning climate protests .  Either vague responses or no response was received from Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Bloomberg, IKEA, BP, Exxon Mobil, BlackRock, and Virgin Group . Of the few who responded:  Patagonia is quoted as saying that it “actively encourages its employees to take part in environmental protests and has a global policy of providing bail for workers arrested during such actions. In September it plans to expand digital efforts to connect customers with local green groups.”  Germany’s GLS ethical bank said “it will close on September 20 so all employees can march ‘against the climate catastrophe'”. And Shell stated that “it backed peaceful protest and its employees could seek leave to join such action.”

For updated news, check the Global Climate Strike websiteand for Canada, the #Fridays for Future Canada  or #Climate Strike Canada Twitter feeds.  And even the mainstream media will be awake to the global climate movement.   The “Covering Climate Now” initiative, led by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Guardian, has gathered  commitments from print and online newspapers and magazines, as well as television,  to run one week of focused climate coverage, to begin September 16 and culminate September 23.    Canadian participants include Maclean’s magazine  and The Tyee

 

Youth continue their slow battle through the courts for a livable climate: Updates for Environnement Jeunesse and Juliana

On June 6, lawyers presented an application to the Superior Court of Quebec on behalf of  ENvironnement JEUnesse . The application seeks authorization to bring a class action against the Canadian government on behalf of Quebeckers aged 35 and under, on the grounds that the government is infringing on their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms  by inadequate action to prevent climate change .  ENvironnement JEUnesse is asking the Court to order the government to implement a greenhouse gas reduction target and the measures necessary to respect the group members’ fundamental rights, and to pay an amount equivalent to $100 per member of the class action. The application suggests that the money, an estimated $340 million, could be invested measures to address the climate crisis.  The Court is now considering the application, with no date given for an expected decision.

The path to climate justice is intergenerational”  is an Opinion piece co-authored by a member of ENvironnement JEUnesse, appearing in the Montreal Gazette. It puts the ENvironnement JEUnesse case in the context of the worldwide Fridays for Future movement, and the Intergenerational Climate Coalition in Canada.  The ENvironnement JEUnesse website  provides French and English documentation and a timeline, as well as a summary of related cases, such as the Urgenda case of the Netherlands and the Juliana case in the U.S. . The best summary appears in the National Observer.  A Canadian Press article,  “Young Quebecers present arguments seeking class action against Ottawa”  appeared in the Montreal  Gazette on June 6 and incorrectly states that this is the first such case in the world by young people – an error which coincides with the latest court appearance on June 4  by the most famous young people’s suit, the  Juliana case.

Juliana vs. United States Government:  In the case  Juliana vs. United States, lawyers for children and young adults in the U.S. rely on the public trust doctrine,  accusing the federal government of violating their constitutional rights by failing to take action on climate change and continuing to promote and subsidize fossil fuels. The case originated in 2015 against the Obama government, and continues under the more hostile Trump administration, which argues that court doesn’t have the authority to order the political branches of government to act. Juliana has been called “the trial of the century” and is expected to be precedent-setting – accordingly, it is moving glacially and judges are being cautious, with no date set for a decision.  On June 4, one of the three judges, Judge Andrew Hurwitz stated, “You present compelling evidence that we have a real problem. You present compelling evidence that we have inaction by the other two branches of government. It may even rise to the level of criminal neglect. But the tough question for me is do we get to act because of that.”

Reports of the June 4 appearance are in the New York Times in “Judges give both sides a grilling in Youth Climate Case Against the Government” (June 4); “Ninth Circuit judges seem skeptical of role in kids climate  suit vs U.S. government in Climate Liability Newsand “Kids Face Rising Health Risks from Climate Change, Doctors Warn as Juliana Case Returns to Court” in Inside Climate News (June 4) . An historical summary appears in  “Question of the century: do we have a right to a livable climate?” in Resilience.

The case is being argued by Our Children’s Trust , which has compiled news and detailed documentation over the four years spent so far.