How to Start an In-Person Youth Climate Court

Steps to Set up a Youth Climate Court:

Get together with a couple friends, designate yourselves a Youth Climate Court and start planning a trial.

Decide which government (city? county? state?) you want to put on trial for not adequately protecting young people’s human rights.

Gather interested volunteers to be “officers of the court.” Everyone then decides who will serve as the judge, the prosecuting attorney or attorneys, the six to twelve members of the jury and, possibly, someone to liase with the accused government to help them get ready to participate.

Meet with any adults (teachers, community members, parents, etc) who will be asked to help throughout the process, and determine the extent of their involvement and how they will help.

Decide on the date and location for the trial.

Decide on the approximate length of time you would like the trial to last (90 minutes? two hours? more?) and how much time will be allotted for each portion – prosecutor’s case, witness testimony, questioning of witnesses, defendants’ case, summations by each side, jury deliberations, announcement of the verdict and next steps, etc.


Write a short description of what the Youth Climate Court is and what the trial will entail. This will be the document you can hand to anyone interested in what you are doing, to the media, and especially to members of the government you will put on trial.

Identify one person to connect with as many local media outlets as possible and invite them to cover the trial. The more media coverage the more influence your court will have.

Youth Court officers begin preparing their roles, arguments, written briefs, etc, and begin planning details about how the trial will proceed. Since the Court’s conclusion may require that the defendant government “prepare an adequate Climate Action Plan,” this is the time to think through what the Court will consider adequate for such a plan.

While Youth Court officers are preparing, now will be the time to contact members of the defendant government, explain what you are doing and that the trial will be public and covered by media. You will then formally (in person and in writing) issue the government a “summons” to send to the trial a representative who will explain the government’s point of view and defend its interests.

It will help to practice first by conducting a mock court session, maybe in front of a class, to work out any glitches.

On the appointed day for the trial, everyone arrives and prepares the venue. Then everyone takes their places and the judge formally opens the court session.

During the trial, the judge’s role is to ensure that everything proceeds as planned and in an orderly manner. The prosecutor(s) present their arguments, call their witnesses, and make their case. The defendants (government representatives) do the same. Time is allowed for questioning witnesses.

When the prosecution and defense have completed their presentations, the jury members retire to a private room to deliberate and decide whether the defendant government should be found guilty of failing to protect citizens’ rights or has done an adequate job of protecting those rights. If the defendant government is found not guilty, then the Court congratulates them and encourages them to work with other governments to address the climate crisis.

If the defendant government is found guilty of failing to protect those rights, then the Court issues a formal mandate to the government. The mandate could take one of two forms. a) It could require that the government enter into a restorative justice process with the Youth Court in which the Youth Court and the government explore together what the government should do to best restore a sense justice will be done and its human rights obligationswill be met. Or b) it could simply require the government to develop a science-based and human-rights-informed Climate Action Plan and submit it to the Court by a specific date.