Colombian Youth File the First Climate Change Lawsuit in Latin America

By: January 29, 2018

25 young people are demanding the government halts deforestation.

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Today, a group of 25 plaintiffs, between 7 and 26 years old, are filing a legal action to demand that the national government protects their rights to a healthy environment, life, health, food, and water. They claim that the rampant deforestation in the Colombian Amazon and climate change are threatening these rights. This is the first climate change litigation in Latin America.

The plaintiffs are filing a tutela – a special figure under the Colombian Constitution used to protect fundamental rights – before the Superior Tribunal of Bogotá. According to César Rodríguez, director of Colombian based NGO Dejusticia and the plaintiffs’ lawyer, this case is part of a broader recent wave of climate change litigation around the world.  

“Just as cities like New York and San Francisco have sued oil companies for their role in fueling climate change and a court ordered the Netherland’s government to reduce its carbon emissions, we are asking that Colombia fulfills its prior commitments to tackle climate change.”

The plaintiffs come from 17 cities and municipalities in Colombia, all of which are significantly threatened by climate related impacts. They are asking all levels of government and the relevant Ministries and agencies to halt the deforestation in the Colombian Amazon. They point at President Juan Manuel Santos’ commitment during the 2015 climate change negotiations to reach zero net deforestation by 2020. The youth are also asking that the government creates an intergenerational agreement so that younger generations can weigh in on decisions related to climate change.

The Colombian Amazon is the region with the highest deforestation rate in the country, which is in itself contributing to climate change by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In 2016, deforestation in Colombia increased by 44% (Colombia lost a total of 178,597 acres of forest) of which 39% was concentrated in the Amazon.

In addition, the plaintiffs argue that all ecosystems are connected, as has been proved by scientific research. For example, the Amazon rainforest is directly related to the water that the 8 million people living in the capital city of Bogotá drink since the rainfall that feeds a local ecosystem known as páramos, the main source of drinking water for the city, comes from the Amazon region.

“Deforestation is threatening the fundamental rights of those of who us who are young today and will face the impacts of climate change the rest of our lives” claim the plaintiffs.

“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.”

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