Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

The establishment of an independent Atmospheric Trust could "significantly change the whole discussion about how to deal with climate disruption." (Photo: Aristocrats-hat/cc/flickr)

Seeking Recourse Against Polluters, Call to 'Claim the Sky' as Common Good Intensifies

"The global atmosphere is certainly one of our major common assets and should be held in trust and protected from harm for current and future generations," states letter to V20 nations

Lauren McCauley

The movement to claim the global atmosphere as a "common good" has been building in grassroots battles for years. But in the wake of the COP21 conference in Paris—with international momentum and a new coalition of countries committed to the need for climate finance—the call to "claim the sky" has found new resonance.

Last week, an international group including leaders from some of the Vulnerable 20 (or V20) nations sent an open letter encouraging V20 members to establish an Atmospheric Trust, which would help hold polluting industries accountable and shield those countries from the worst impacts of climate change.

"The global atmosphere is certainly one of our major common assets and should be held in trust and protected from harm for current and future generations," states the letter, which was signed by more than 30 notable academics, activists, and visionaries from around the world, including Indian activist Vandana Shiva, economist Herman Daly, former Prime Minister of Bhutan Jigmi Y. Thinley, and Mary Wood, law professor and author of the book Nature's Trust, among others.

It explains that "under the public trust doctrine, all countries are co-trustees in the global atmosphere. A subset of countries can therefore agree to establish an Atmospheric Trust, as an independent agency to serve as trustee."

Such a trust, the letter explains, would be able to collect claims for damages to the atmosphere, funds which could then be used towards mitigation, adaptation, and compensation, "while also providing resources for the most affected populations."

The letter notes that "only 90 enterprises (mainly extractive industries) are responsible for 2/3 of global carbon emissions. This means that damage claims could target a relatively small number of entities."

The trust would provide the V20 with a legal recourse to target those responsible for carbon emissions. Indeed, the group's official statement (pdf), adopted ahead of the Paris climate talks, calls for "innovative revenue generating fiscal and financial measures to finance climate action."

V20 member states are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Kiribati, Madagascar, Maldives, Nepal, Philippines, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Vietnam.

The letter offers that the establishment of an independent Atmospheric Trust could "significantly change the whole discussion about how to deal with climate disruption. Rather than national governments negotiating with each other about emissions, governments can see themselves as co-trustees with a fiduciary responsibility to protect the atmospheric commons."

In an op-ed on Tuesday, letter signatories and Alliance for Sustainability and Prosperity members Robert Costanza, Lorenzo Fioramonti, and Ida Kubiszewski explain how this doctrine has already buoyed several climate court cases, including a youth-led victory in Washington state last spring.

In March, a court in New Mexico recognised (pdf) that the state has a duty to protect New Mexico’s natural resources, including the atmosphere, for the benefit of the state’s residents. In June, a court in the Netherlands ordered the Dutch government to cut the country’s emissions by at least 25% within five years.

In each case, the public trust doctrine was used to establish community property rights over the atmospheric commons.

Costanza, Fioramonti, and Kubiszewski note that while the Paris Agreement and national pledges to curb carbon emissions fall short of guaranteeing global temperature rise won't exceed 1.5°C, this mechanism "offers a potential solution" which "can work to accelerate movement toward achieving the goals of COP21."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.


Abortion Rights Defenders Applaud Judge's Block on Utah 'Trigger Ban'

"Today is a win, but it is only the first step in what will undoubtedly be a long and difficult fight," said one pro-choice advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·

Scores Feared Dead and Wounded as Russian Missiles Hit Ukraine Shopping Center

"People just burned alive," said Ukraine's interior minister, while the head of the Poltava region stated that "it is too early to talk about the final number of the killed."

Brett Wilkins ·

Biodiversity Risks Could Persist for Decades After Global Temperature Peak

One study co-author said the findings "should act as a wake-up call that delaying emissions cuts will mean a temperature overshoot that comes at an astronomical cost to nature and humans that unproven negative emission technologies cannot simply reverse."

Jessica Corbett ·

Amnesty Report Demands Biden Take Action to End Death Penalty

"The world is waiting for the USA to do what almost 100 countries have achieved during this past half-century—total abolition of the death penalty," said the group.

Julia Conley ·

Pointing to 'Recently Obtained Evidence,' Jan. 6 Panel Calls Surprise Tuesday Hearing

The announcement came less than a week after the House panel delayed new hearings until next month, citing a "deluge" of fresh evidence.

Common Dreams staff ·

Common Dreams Logo