Youth Climate Courts : How You Can Host a Human Rights Trial for People and Planet book cover
1st Edition

Youth Climate Courts
How You Can Host a Human Rights Trial for People and Planet

ISBN 9781032109060
Published October 15, 2021 by Routledge
124 Pages

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Book Description

This book focuses on Youth Climate Courts, a bold new tool that young people in their teens and twenties can use to compel their local city or county government to live up to its human rights obligations, formally acknowledge the climate crisis, and take major steps to address it.

Tom Kerns shows how youth climate leaders can form their own local Youth Climate Court, with youth judges, youth prosecuting attorneys, and youth jury members, and put their local city or county government on trial for not meeting its human rights obligations. Kerns describes how a Youth Climate Court works, how to start one, what human rights are, what they require of local governments, and what governmental changes a Youth Climate Court can realistically hope to accomplish. The book offers young activists a brand new, user-friendly, cost-free, barrier-free, powerful tool for forcing local governments to come to terms with their obligation to protect the rights of their citizens with respect to the climate crisis.

This book offers a unique new tool to young climate activists hungry for genuinely effective ways to directly move governments to aggressively address the climate crisis.

Table of Contents


Dear Reader



The plight of the young

Brief overview of Youth Climate Courts

Purposes of Youth Climate Courts

How to read this book

Chapter 1: How Does a Youth Climate Court Work?

Why conduct a Youth Climate Court?

Whom should Youth Courts put on trial?

Roles on the Youth Climate Court team

The youth judge

The question to be decided

The youth prosecuting team

The youth liaison for the government representative to the court

Youth jury members

Media organizer (for news reporters, bloggers, social media, etc)

Video-recording organizer

Adult advisor or mentor?

But will governments even show up?

Youth Climate Courts’ teeth

The prosecutor’s argument

The verdict

If not guilty

If guilty, the court’s mandate

Issuing a mandate

Mandate options

    1. Restorative justice process
    2. Climate Emergency and Climate Action Plan
    3. Climate-in-all-policies rule
    4. Climate Action Plan with climate-in-all-policies included
    5. Endorse Declaration on Human Rights and Climate Change
    6. Add climate language or amendment to founding document
    7. Divest city or county investments from fossil fuel corporations
    8. Artistic installations
    9. Any combination of the above

Climate emergency declarations

Climate Action Plans

International Coalition of Youth Courts

Basic steps in the process of developing a Youth Climate Court

Adaptable, flexible, malleable, innovative

Chapter 2: What Are Human Rights?

What are human rights?

Modern history of human rights

Human rights as moral and legal standards

Why human rights?

The purpose of governments

Human rights obligations of governments

Tools available in human rights advocacy

Telling the story

Claiming moral authority with Human Rights Assessments, reports, Tribunal and Inquiry findings

Exercising moral power: Inquiries, Tribunals, Youth Climate Courts

The power of the moral

Chapter 3: Which Specific Human Rights?

Environmental Justice

Right to life

Right to health

Right to an adequate standard of living

Right to food

Right to water and sanitation

Rights of the child

Rights of vulnerable populations

The Right of Indigenous Peoples to Own, Use, Develop, and Control Traditional Lands and Water

Right to a healthy environment

Human Rights documents

Coda: Youth interventions for an addicted world


    1. The Declaration on Human Rights and Climate Change
    2. The Restorative Justice Only Option
    3. A Note on Rights of Nature
    4. Measures that local governments should consider including in their Climate Action Plans
    5. Potential risks to youth organizers?


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Tom Kerns is Director of Environment and Human Rights Advisory and Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at North Seattle College, USA. His work brings human rights norms to bear on environmental issues, especially on the climate crisis. In 2015 he served on the drafting group for the international "Declaration on Human Rights and Climate Change", and from 2014 until 2018 he co-organized the 2018 Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal Session on Human Rights, Fracking and Climate Change. He is co-editor, with Kathleen Dean Moore, of Bearing Witness: The Human Rights Case Against Fracking and Climate Change (2021), a book based on the testimony and findings in that Tribunal.


“This little book is an empowering guide. It sets out a clear way for young people (and others) to hold governments and corporations to account for failures to take the climate crisis seriously. This powerful little book breaks new ground, offering a cost-free, barrier-free tool for activism. I highly recommend it! Go, set up a youth climate court, call power to account using this unique way of taking action. Do it everywhere.”

Anna Grear, Founder and first Director of the Global Network for the Study of Human Rights and the Environment, and Professor of Law at Cardiff University, UK

"Youth Climate Courts: How You Can Host a Human Rights Trial for People and Planet is a small but powerful guide for young people to use as one way to encourage their local city or regional governments to account for their human rights obligations, formally acknowledge the climate crisis and its impacts on a range of human rights and take steps to address it. This is the first practical guidebook to support and inspire inter>generational climate action written especially for young people."

Judith Preston, Journal of Energy & Natural Resources Law