McGill law student pens essay on climate action, snags seat at Youth Climate Summit

Larissa Parker's essay on why a healthy climate should be a legal right for future generations won The Economist's Open Future essay contest and secured her a place at the upcoming United Nations summit in New York City.

Larissa Parker won The Economist's Open Future essay contest out of 2,400 entries

Larissa Parker is a law student at McGill University and the winner of The Economist's Open Future essay contest. (Marilla Steuter-Martin/CBC)

The people who will suffer the most from climate change have not been born yet. But maybe there's a way for those future generations to have a voice in the ongoing climate debate — at least legally.

That's the key argument that 25-year-old McGill law student Larissa Parker pursues in her winning essay for The Economist's Open Future Essay Competition.

"As a law student you're kind of always trying to solve problems that seem impossible," she told CBC's Let's Go. "For me, there's only so much time that can pass when you're looking at these issues before you think 'What can I do?'"

Parker submitted her essay to the contest and was chosen from among 2,400 entries from 130 countries.

Beyond the bragging rights, Parker's essay secured her an invitation to the United Nations' Youth Climate Summit this weekend.

Parker explained that in the current legal system, people can only sue others for something that's happening now or something that has happened before.

"The effects of climate change take years to manifest," she said. "Who's going to speak for future generations?"

In her essay, she detailed how the legal framework could be changed to extend a concept called legal standing — essentially making it possible for a lawsuit to be filed against a government or a company on behalf of future humans.

Parker, originally from Toronto, said that right now there aren't many avenues of legal recourse to hold these entities accountable.

For Parker, the failure to act can be partly boiled down to the attitudes of people in power.

"I think one of the reasons governments and businesses aren't taking climate change seriously is because it's not going to happen in their lifetime," she said.

Having attended United Nations climate conferences as a youth delegate for years, Parker is no stranger to the kind of economic-first rhetoric that gets tossed around.

She's hoping this weekend's Youth Climate Summit in New York City will be an opportunity to speak with like-minded people.

"I think there's been an effort to invite young activists from all over the world and I'm excited to be in the room with that kind of ambition and that kind of drive," she said.

Read Larissa Parker's winning essay here.