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Climate Legacy Initiative

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The Climate Legacy Initiative (CLI), begun in March 2007 and formally ended in July 2009, was a collaborative, externally funded project of Vermont Law School's Environmental Law Center and The University of Iowa's Center for Human Rights. Its overall purpose was to research and promote legal doctrines, principles, and rules appropriate for recognition by courts, legislatures, administrative agencies, and private sector institutions to safeguard present and future generations from harms resulting from global climate change. In April 2009, it published and released its resulting policy paper (Recalibrating the Law of Humans with the Laws of Nature: Climate Change, Human Rights, and Intergenerational Justice), available here together with other details concerning the CLI.


Creating a Just Climate Legacy:
A New Legal Perspective on An Unprecedented Crisis

Our children are living embodiments of our legacy. They deserve the same promise and opportunity we inherited from our parents. But the climate crisis threatens to take that all away.

Even today, many people in positions of power do not understand the seriousness of the threat. Often the debate concerns parts per million in 2050—which can seem both impossibly obscure and impossibly remote.

But in reality, the problem is simple and close to our hearts. We need to emit less of the pollution that causes global warming or our children and grandchildren will will suffer a world we can hardly imagine. Theirs will be a world of widespread flooding, poisoned air and water, rapidly spreading disease—and the resulting refugee migrations, resource wars, and humanitarian crises. Our preschools are full of children who will be just 45 in 2050—possibly with children of their own, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of today’s decision-makers.

To avoid the point of no return, we need to make fundamental changes right away. That starts with changing our thinking. This is the starting point for the Climate Legacy Initiative, a powerful new way of thinking about the climate crisis. Led by a team of legal scholars and policy experts, this new perspective is designed to show that stopping and mitigating climate change is a real obligation—legal as well as moral—that we have to our children and future generations.

The Climate Legacy Initiative (CLI) is devoted to bringing the law of government in line with the laws of nature. Its goal is nothing less than to change the way we think about our world—and the way our laws deal with a world rocked by climate change.

The CLI’s new policy paper presents specific recommendations towards achieving this goal, and it does so taking existing law into account. Legal systems in the United States and around the world already include arguments for intergenerational rights and responsibilities. Many of those arguments flow from three core principles:

  • Diverse Options: A responsibility to ensure that future generations have the ability to make choices about how they live in the world they inherit.
  • Environmental Quality: A responsibility to pass on a world that has not been damaged by our actions—and to repair the actions of the past.
  • Equal Access: A responsibility to give equal access to public resources.

These three principles are encapsulated in the simple idea of the Intergenerational Golden Rule: When making decisions about our world, we should do unto our children as we wish our parents had done unto us.