The Montana case, brought by plaintiffs ranging in age from 5 to 22, was the first of its kind to go to trial in the US. The ruling adds to a small number of legal decisions around the world that have established a government duty to protect citizens from climate change. If it stands, the ruling could set an important legal precedent, though experts said the immediate impacts are limited and state officials pledged to seek to overturn the decision on appeal.
District court judge Kathy Seeley found the policy the Montana state uses in evaluating requests for fossil fuel permits – which does not allow agencies to look at greenhouse gas emissions – to be unconstitutional.
It marks the first time a US court has ruled against a government for violating a constitutional right based on climate change, said Harvard Law School Professor Richard Lazarus. ” …It is a state court not a federal court and the ruling is based on a state constitution and not the US Constitution, but it is still clearly a major, pathbreaking win for climate plaintiffs.”
The judge rejected the state’s argument that Montana’s emissions are insignificant, saying they were “a substantial factor” in climate change. Montana is a major producer of coal burned for electricity and has large oil and gas reserves.