Climate change litigation: A review of research on courts and litigants in climate governance


Studies of climate change litigation have proliferated over the past two decades, as lawsuits across the world increasingly bring policy debates about climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as climate change‐related loss and damage to the attention of courts. We systematically identify 130 articles on climate change litigation published in English in the law and social sciences between 2000 and 2018 to identify research trajectories. In addition to a budding interdisciplinarity in scholarly interest in climate change litigation we also document a growing understanding of the full spectrum of actors involved and implicated in climate lawsuits and the range of motivations and/or strategic imperatives underpinning their engagement with the law. Situating this within the broader academic literature on the topic we then highlight a number of cutting edge trends and opportunities for future research. Four emerging themes are explored in detail: the relationship between litigation and governance; how time and scale feature in climate litigation; the role of science; and what has been coined the “human rights turn” in climate change litigation. We highlight the limits of existing work and the need for future research—not limited to legal scholarship—to evaluate the impact of both regulatory and anti‐regulatory climate‐related lawsuits, and to explore a wider set of jurisdictions, actors and themes. Addressing these issues and questions will help to develop a deeper understanding of the conditions under which litigation will strengthen or undermine climate governance.

Setzer, J. and Vanhala, L. (2019). Climate change litigation: A review of research on courts and litigants in climate governance. WIREs Climate Change. Published Online: 4 March 2019. https://doi.org/10.1002/wcc.580