Climate change lawsuits expand to at least 28 countries around the world
Legal action on climate change increasingly spreading beyond the United States
Climate change lawsuits have been launched in at least 28 countries around the world, according to a new report published today by the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
An analysis of cases recorded worldwide since 1990 shows that climate change litigation is most prevalent in the United States but is also spreading to new countries. Since 2015, this includes cases recorded for the first time in Indonesia, Pakistan, South Africa, Norway and Colombia.
Most of the legal actions have been launched against governments, including both national and local governments. However, companies are also being targeted for failing to incorporate climate change into their decision-making, and for failing to disclose risks to their shareholders.
Citizens, non-governmental organisations, businesses and even local governments are taking businesses and governments to court for failing to protect them from the effects of devastating climate change, or for contributing to climate change in such a way that it impacts their health or livelihoods.
The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and Environment has published its analysis, Global trends in climate change litigation: 2019 snapshot, as part of London Climate Action Week, being held by the Mayor of London and Greater London Authority (GLA).
The analysis of the outcomes of lawsuits over this period also reveals that court cases that supported efforts to tackle climate change outnumber those that hindered these efforts in non-US jurisdictions (43% compared to 27%).
A previous study by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University revealed that since the election of President Donald Trump, lawsuits brought in the United States are more likely to support efforts to tackle climate change than to hinder them. The analysis of the objectives of 154 lawsuits filed in the United States between 2017 and 2018 revealed that 84% (129) seek to support efforts to tackle climate change compared to just 16% (25%) that seek to hinder these efforts.
The analyses also show that climate change court cases are increasingly involving non-governmental organisations as plaintiffs taking governments and corporations to court, rather than corporations taking action.
One ongoing case the report notes is Juliana v. US., which was heard by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland, Oregon on 4 June 2019. The lawsuit, brought by 21 youth plaintiffs, asserts that US Government actions that cause climate change violate their constitutional right to life, liberty and property. Judges have yet to decide if the case should go to trial or whether the Government should halt new fossil fuel extraction projects as a result.
Outside the United States, in Urgenda Foundation v. State of the Netherlands, the Court of Appeal at The Hague upheld that the government must adopt stricter emissions reduction targets. The case was heard by the Dutch Supreme Court on 24 May 2019 and awaits judgement.
Joana Setzer, research fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and co-author of the report, said:
“Holding government and businesses to account for failing to combat climate change has become a global phenomenon.
“People and environmental groups are forcing governments and companies into court for failing to act on climate change, and not just in the United States. Now the number of countries in which people are taking climate change court action is likely to continue to rise.
“Until recently businesses might not have considered a climate change lawsuit to be a risk, but this is something all corporations should now be taking into account.
“Litigation is clearly an important part of the armoury for those seeking to tackle climate change. Court cases contribute to greater awareness of climate change issues and can force changes in behaviour that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It remains an expensive and potentially risky option, though, if compared to other routes like policy-making.”
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NOTES FOR EDITORS
- The analysis of climate change cases uses the Climate Change Laws of the World database, an open-access compilation of climate change litigation cases filed around the world that is updated continuously. It includes 304 climate cases from 27 countries (excluding the United States) and 5 supranational jurisdictions, and is maintained jointly by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. Details of cases in the United States are available through a database maintained by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law and the Arnold and Porter law firm. The two databases include cases that are brought before administrative, judicial and other investigatory bodies, and that raise issues of law or fact regarding the science of climate change and climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. The datasets are available at: www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/climate-change-laws-of-the-world/
- The ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (https://www.cccep.ac.uk/) is hosted by the University of Leeds and the London School of Economics and Political Science. It is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (https://www.esrc.ac.uk/). The Centre’s mission is to advance public and private action on climate change through rigorous, innovative research.
- The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (https://www.lse.ac.uk/grantham) was launched at the London School of Economics and Political Science in October 2008. It is funded by The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment (https://www.granthamfoundation.org/).
- The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School develops legal techniques to fight climate change, trains law students and lawyers in their use, and provides the legal profession and the public with up-to-date resources on key topics in climate law and regulation. It works closely with the scientists at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and with a wide range of governmental, non-governmental and academic organisations. For more information see https://columbiaclimatelaw.com/