How to Sue a State
In conversation with the youth behind the Aurora climate lawsuit
What did we ask?
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Climate litigation is becoming a hot topic, following an upsurge of legal mobilisations globally. In several countries citizens have come together to sue their states for insufficient climate action, and legal mobilisations have opened up new ways to demand climate justice from those in power. A large share of the lawsuits brought forward are driven by young people, who are suing their states for threatening their future human rights. Examples of recent youth driven climate lawsuits include Juliana v. United States, Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and Others and Soubeste et. al v. Austria et. al.
We had the opportunity to speak to three young people from the organisation Aurora, who are behind an ongoing climate lawsuit in Sweden. On November 25th 2022, Aurora filed a lawsuit against the Swedish state for insufficient climate policies. More than 600 children and youth are behind the lawsuit, including Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. The youth are condemning Sweden’s climate policies to be illegal, as the targets set by the Swedish state are too slow and insufficient, while the previously set climate targets remain unachieved. Aurora is thus claiming that Sweden is not treating the climate crisis like a crisis.
The district court of Nacka (a town in Sweden where the lawsuit was filed), considered the claims to be clear enough to be tried in court. On the 21st of March 2023 the Nacka District Court issued a summons, upon which the Swedish state will have three months time to respond to the case. The case is treated as a class-action lawsuit, meaning that a large group of people in Aurora will be represented by a few members of the organisation. The Swedish state on the other hand will be represented by the Chancellor of Justice.
We will now hear from three young people from Aurora: Agnes Hjortsberg (21), Anton Foley (20) and Ida Edling (23), who will share their experiences of filing a lawsuit as a group of young people.
What breaches are you suing Sweden on?
The legal provisions that we say the state has violated is human rights under the European Convention of Human Rights. So we're saying that the Swedish state's lack of sufficient climate measures threatens young people's human rights in the future. We're talking about the human right to life, to health, to dignity, to well-being, to home and to property. And that's Article 2, 3, 8 and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights - and it's the first article of the first protocol of the European Convention of Human Rights.
How did you start this process?
A lot of the inspiration to do this came from people who had already done it in other countries. A natural first step, or one of the first steps, was to reach out and make contacts: at the very early stages we had calls and meetings with lawyers and activists who had pursued similar cases in for example Norway, the Netherlands and France. We learned from them both legally how we should approach it, but also how we should approach it organizationally, financially and from a media perspective. And then as we came to terms with what kind of case we wanted to run, or how we should do it, we also had close contact with international climate litigation groups, to sharpen our arguments and learn from their cases. Thus, I'd say there have been two waves of work: The first one is just about figuring out what is going on and how we should do this. And then secondly, once we had it more figured out, on the legal and technical side, we could focus on sharpening the arguments.
What type of competences are needed to file this type of lawsuit?
In Aurora as an organisation, almost none of the youth and children had any knowledge of how to do something like this from previous experience. Of course, we have law students who manage a lot of the law stuff, but when it comes to funding, media and social media, or how to run an organisation and how to take care of each other, it's something we learn as we go.
And we've collected a network of professionals and people who know what they're doing in lots of different areas. For example: legal experts, climate scientists and public relations people to help us figure out how to get our message out there. But also a lot of climate activists helped us figure out what our actual aims are. Because there are lots of ways you could structure this legally, but not all would be desirable for what we actually want to achieve. Thus, “where are we going” is the first question we need to answer. Then, “what do we want to achieve? “ and thirdly “how can we use law as a tool to achieve that?”
I think that the way we have decided to structure our work within the Aurora case is quite unique. And we've heard that from people who have worked with many different climate cases in other countries too, that our work culture is original because we have a very mixed work culture. We are completely led by youth who have no particular academic background, but who are firmly rooted in what we're actually trying to do. Like Anton was saying, the direction we're actually headed in. And then on the same decision making level or level below even, we have the actual competences. So this democratic way of working together from different age groups and different competence levels is unique I think, and has proven to be very dynamic and successful for us.
What would be your advice to a group of young people wanting to start something similar? What is the first thing to start with?
One thing we've begun doing is creating a network of youth doing this all over the world. For example we have contacts in Norway, South Korea, Austria, and the Netherlands. I think one of the first steps is to reach out to one of those groups. We've had meetings with new groups, but we have also been the new group in other meetings. I think using the platforms and networks available is a good tool.
Yeah, and I think in general, if you're young and you want to make a difference in this or any social or environmental cause, the most important thing to do is to start from where you are and use whatever expertise, interest and platform you have available to you. And if you have a big idea, just go for it! We were just a group of people who thought this would be a cool thing to do and then we started talking to people who knew what they were doing. And then it took a while but over time we assembled this sort of group. And I think that, it sounds very cliche, but just do it, go for it and see where you end up. Nobody thinks they're going to start a global movement when for example deciding to school strike. You just do it because it's the right thing to do and then people sort of catch on. So, I think that wherever you are, start affecting change in your community and whatever spaces you are active in, in school, student unions, trade unions, religious groups, and wherever else you are active. Just start making a difference and speaking up in those circles and then see where it takes you.
Yeah, educate yourselves, take action and then take inspiration and learn from those who have done similar things before you, because you don't have to reinvent the wheel! The three steps that we advise other youth groups to take, if they also want to sue their states, is to: First find each other and then find competence, find lawyers and scientists, and then find money. Because you will need money. But also remember that all types of legitimate action is vital for sufficient climate action. So, litigation is one way but every other way is also valuable.
How can other young people or youth organisations support Aurora?
The first thing is to do what you're doing, continue to raise awareness of the climate crisis, continue to push for urgent action in the climate crisis, continue to try to make people in power see that the way we use Earth today is dangerous and won't last. And try to change that in a way that you're already doing, because that will help us all. We're one movement trying to achieve climate justice and everyone needs to do it in their way and every legitimate way is valuable. But then if you concretely want to help our particular cause, we are always in need of money, because holding the state accountable for violations of human rights is very, very expensive in Sweden. And so this would not have been possible without extensive economic support from the public, and here every contribution matters.
And also if you're a youth in Sweden and you are interested in Aurora, you can also join Aurora! We always need more people!