Many hailed the recent UN climate change conference in Paris as a success, with a historic agreement adopted to keep global temperature rises below 2ºC. But, how do we achieve this?

Climate victories across the globe in the past year show that people grew tired of waiting on slow government action against climate change well before the meeting in Paris. In March 2015, a court in New Mexico ruled that the state has a duty to protect its natural resources and the atmosphere on behalf of the people of New Mexico. Shortly afterwards, in June, a Dutch court ordered the government to cut the country’s emissions by at least 25 percent in the next five years. In November, an unlikely group of teenagers took on the Washington State Department of Ecology in an effort to enact a carbon emissions rule to protect future generations. They won.

Each of these cases called upon the public trust doctrine, arguing community property rights over the atmospheric commons. According to this doctrine, all nations are co-trustees in the global atmospheric trust, making each government responsible for protecting the commons from damaging activities. This global atmospheric trust could then collect claims for damages to the commons directly from the parties responsible–not a difficult task, as only approximately 90 enterprises currently account for two-thirds of global carbon emissions.

In the wake of the Paris conference, campaigners for a global atmospheric trust have drafted an open letter encouraging the Vulnerable 20 countries (those facing the greatest risks from climate change) to create such a trust. The letter is open to all, and already counts many prominent world leaders and thinkers among its signatories.

Civil society must add its weight to this movement in order to overcome corporate resistance. Read the letter at, sign it, and make your voice heard in this call for action to take back our skies.


Colleen Maney

Colleen is a recent graduate of Northeastern University in Boston. With an academic background in International Affairs and Political Science, Colleen’s research revolves around post-conflict reconciliation...

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