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Young Colombians File Landmark Climate Lawsuit

The group of plaintiffs aged 7 to 26 who filed a climate change lawsuit against the Colombian government, Jan. 29, 2018.
The group of plaintiffs aged 7 to 26 who filed a climate change lawsuit against the Colombian government, Jan. 29, 2018.

A group of young Colombians, one as young as seven, filed a lawsuit against the Colombian government on Monday demanding it protect their right to a healthy environment in what campaigners said was the first such action in Latin America.

The lawsuit, filed at a Bogota court, alleges the government's failure to stem rising deforestation in Colombia puts their future in jeopardy and violates their constitutional rights to a healthy environment, life, food and water.

"Deforestation is threatening the fundamental rights of those of us who are young today and will face the impacts of climate change the rest of our lives," the 25 plaintiffs, whose ages range from seven to 26, said in a joint statement.

"We are at a critical moment given the speed at which deforestation is happening in the Colombian Amazon. The government's lack of capacity and planning as well as its failure to protect the environment makes the adoption of urgent measures necessary."

It is the first climate change litigation in Latin America, according to the Bogota-based rights group, Dejusticia, which is supporting the plaintiffs' case.

The lawsuit follows a recent surge in litigation around the world demanding action or claiming damages over the impact of climate change - from rising sea levels to pollution.

"Just as cities, like New York and San Francisco, have sued oil companies for their role in fueling climate change, and a court ordered the Netherlands' government to reduce its carbon emissions, we are asking that Colombia fulfills its prior commitments to tackle climate change," said Cesar Rodriguez, head of Dejusticia.

Experts say U.S. President Donald Trump's move to pull out of the global Paris climate change accord and roll back environmental regulations means campaigners are increasingly resorting to litigation in the United States.

The Colombia lawsuit calls on the government to halt deforestation in Colombia's Amazon and keep to its promises.

Colombia, home to a swathe of rainforest roughly the size of Germany and England combined, has declared a goal of zero net deforestation by 2020 and halting the loss of all natural forest by 2030.

Despite the government's pledges, deforestation in Colombia's Amazon region rose 23 percent and across the country increased by 44 percent from 2015 to 2016.

When forests are degraded or destroyed, the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere. Deforestation accounts for 10 to 15 percent of carbon emissions worldwide.

Stemming forest loss is even more urgent following Colombia's 2016 peace deal that ended a decades-long civil war.

Experts say Colombia's rainforests are under increasing threat with once no-go conflict areas opening up for development and criminal gangs cutting down trees for illegal gold mining.