New Federal Report Could Boost Climate Fight in the Courts

We have a bit of internal conflict within the federal government these days, to put it mildly. On the one hand, there’s our climate-denying president, not to mention a solidly red Senate that’s not exactly jumping at the chance to take action on climate change. On the other, we have a now blue House of Representatives, and the 13 federal agencies that in late November issued the country’s Fourth National Climate Assessment, a grim report on how climate change is already impacting the daily lives of Americans. And then we have the courts, which have become battlefields for many a climate fight these days, as youth sue the federal government, cities sue oil companies, and nonprofits sue, well, both, in an effort to move the bar forward on climate action.

In one important way at least, the recent climate assessment could give a valuable boost to the many climate action-oriented plaintiffs making their cases in US courts. Experts say the new report is hard for courts to ignore, and lends credence to the argument that climate change is not only a major threat to future generations, but a here-and-now type of threat that’s already harming the economy, public health, and general welfare. And though there is no shortage of reports detailing the many ways that climate change will alter life as we know it — this fall season alone brought an IPCC report saying we have just 12 years to stem the worst impacts of climate change, a United Nations Environment Program report detailing the climate emissions gap, and the Lancet countdown on health and climate — the National Climate Assessment came from the US federal government itself, a fact that would seem to lend it additional weight in US courts.

“I think there is something especially powerful when the government is acknowledging all of these harms, and at the same time … rolling back its own climate regulations,” says Ann Carlson, an…

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