A wave of young people filing lawsuits against governments for not doing enough to protect the planet from the likes of deforestation and climate change is rising.
In the latest move, a group of young Colombians, one as young as seven, filed a lawsuit against the Colombian government at a Bogota court yesterday. The group allege the government’s failure to stem rising deforestation in Colombia puts their future in jeopardy and violates their constitutional rights to a healthy environment, life, food and water.
In a joint statement, the 25 plaintiffs, whose ages range from seven to 26, said: “Deforestation is threatening the fundamental rights of those of us who are young today and will face the impacts of climate change the rest of our lives.
“We are at a critical moment given the speed at which deforestation is happening in the Colombian Amazon. The government’s lack of capacity and planning as well as its failure to protect the environment makes the adoption of urgent measures necessary.”
It is the first climate change litigation in Latin America, according to the Bogota-based rights group, Dejusticia, which is supporting the plaintiffs’ case.
The Colombia lawsuit calls on the government to halt deforestation in Colombia’s Amazon and keep to its promises.
Colombia, home to a range of rainforest roughly the size of Germany and England combined, has declared a goal of zero net deforestation by 2020 and halting the loss of all natural forest by 2030.
Despite the government’s pledges, deforestation in Colombia’s Amazon region rose 23% and across the country increased by 44% from 2015 to 2016.
When forests are degraded or destroyed, the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere. Deforestation accounts for 10-15% of carbon emissions worldwide.
Stemming forest loss is even more urgent following Colombia’s 2016 peace deal that ended a decades-long civil war.
Experts say Colombia’s rainforests are under increasing threat with once no-go conflict areas opening up for development and criminal gangs cutting down trees for illegal gold mining.
The legal action taken by the 25 young activists in Columbia follows a recent surge in lawsuits around the the world demanding action or claiming damages over the impact of climate change – from rising sea levels to pollution.
Earth Guardians founder Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and 21 other young activists have filed a lawsuit against the United States government, claiming that the administration is not doing enough to protect the Earth’s atmosphere and young people’s future from the impacts of climate change.
The case filed by the young Columbians also demands that the Columbian government protect their right to a healthy environment.
Cesar Rodriguez, head of Dejusticia, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: “Just as cities, like New York and San Francisco, have sued oil companies for their role in fuelling climate change, and a court ordered the Netherlands’ government to reduce its carbon emissions, we are asking that Colombia fulfills its prior commitments to tackle climate change.”
In Colombia there are other young people fighting for a healthy environment for future generations. Among them are Tierra Digna – a group of young women who managed to get the Atrato River declared as a subject possessing rights – and July Mora, the leader of two large associations of fishermen and farmers of Magdalena Medio, who rescues native species and aims to recover the river.
With the latest legal action by the group of young Colombians, it sends a clear message that “they are not going to resign themselves to the world they will inherit”.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea