[Press Release] Korean youth launches legal action against government over climate crisis

[Press Release 13 March 2020]

Korean youth launches legal action against government over climate crisis

“Current greenhouse gas emission reduction target infringes our constitutional rights by failing to address the climate crisis”

13 March, 2020, Seoul – A Korean youth group has filed a constitutional appeal over the government’s inaction on climate change, claiming it infringes their constitutional rights. It is the first legal action of its kind by the youth in Asia. 

Youth 4 Climate Action filed a constitutional claim on the grounds the nation’s greenhouse gas emission reduction target is inadequate, and as such, breaches the protection of their basic rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Plaintiffs said they are already experiencing climate impacts but the government is too  passive and irresponsible to save them from the catastrophic consequences of the climate crisis.

“Adults say ‘you have a bright future and you can do a lot of things,’ but at this pace, the global temperature will hit 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels just in 7 years. I’m scared, because by then I’ll be just 23 and face a lifetime of uncertainty due to the potential for catastrophic climate impacts,” Do-hyun Kim said during a press conference held before the plaintiffs submitted their claim.

“By undertaking this litigation, I want to demand the government take responsibility for protecting its people from climate change,” she added.  

Another plaintiff Hae-young Yoon said “It’s my right to dream about my future free from the threat of the climate crisis. I hope our demands can be heard by decision-makers to ensure my generation can live our lives and enjoy the things the older generations have taken for granted.” 

The youth group originally planned to stage a massive “school strike” event in downtown Seoul after the conference, but had to cancel it due to the concern over the coronavirus. The conference also live-streamed on Facebook to allow journalists to join online. 

About the case

In the case, the plaintiffs willargue that Article 25 of the Presidential Enforcement Decree of the Framework Act on Low Carbon, Green Growth directly violates their fundamental constitutional rights such as right to life, right to pursue happiness, right to a clean environment, right to equality, and right to a life worthy of human beings.

It has been revised twice in 2016 and 2019, but the current reduction target is 24.4 percent below the greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 by 2030, still far below what is needed to meet the Paris agreement to only worsen climate change.

They also say the Constitutional Court, which specializes in lawsuits addressing constitutional challenges in South Korea, should find it unconstitutional that such legislative action fails to set any specific guideline in connection with the greenhouse gas reduction target and merely gives the government discretion to set the target, as the Constitution imposes on the National Assembly the duty to legislate for protection of basic rights.

“That our children are filing a Constitutional claim against adults for their survival and well-being is very meaningful,” said lawyer Byung-Joo Lee, one of legal representatives  from S&L Partners.

“The Constitutional Court of Korea is well known for being at the forefront in upholding ordinary citizens’ basic rights. If they will uphold the future generation’s right to life as well as guarding the fate of humankind, it will be the judgement of the century,” he said.

This is an unprecedented legal action in the country, but climate litigation against governments to halt global warming is proceeding in many countries. For example, the Supreme Court of Netherlands ordered the government to raise the reduction target for greenhouse gas emissions last December.

The youth group will receive legal support for the litigation from lawyers with S&L and Solutions for Our Climate in the form of public interest litigation, but they will lead the litigation campaign to draw public support and push the government to take action throughout the year, while the litigation is proceeding.    

* Photos from the conference can be downloaded from here. (Sources from Youth 4 Climate Action) 

Youth 4 Climate Action

Youth 4 Climate Action is a group which was launched by young Koreans to demand the government and adults take action on climate change. Based on their values such as volunteerism and democratic decision-making, they seek various and creative ways of delivering their messages. Since last year, they have led “school strike” events and also more directly had their voices heard through meetings with decision-makers such as Environment Minister Myung-rae Cho and superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education Hee-yeon Cho.