This report provides a numerical analysis of how many climate change litigation cases were filed in 2023, where and by whom, and a qualitative assessment of trends and themes in the types of cases filed. It is the sixth report in the series, produced by the Grantham Research Institute in partnership with the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law and drawing on the Sabin Center’s Climate Change Litigation Databases. Each report provides a synthesis of the latest research and developments in the climate change litigation field.

Key messages

  • At least 230 new climate cases were filed in 2023. Many of these are seeking to hold governments and companies accountable for climate action. However, the number of cases expanded less rapidly last year than previously, which may suggest a consolidation and concentration of strategic litigation efforts in areas anticipated to have high impact.
  • Climate cases have continued to spread to new countries, with cases filed for the first time in Panama and Portugal in 2023.
  • 2023 was an important year for international climate change litigation, with major international courts and tribunals being asked to rule and advise on climate change. Just 5% of climate cases have been brought before international courts, but many of these cases have significant potential to influence domestic proceedings.
  • There were significant successes in ‘government framework’ cases in 2023; these challenge the ambition or implementation of a government’s overall climate policy response. The European Court of Human Rights’ decision in April 2024 in the case of KlimaSeniorinnen and ors. v. Switzerland is likely to lead to the filing of further cases.
  • Strategic climate cases continued to be filed against companies, with about 230 such cases now identified from 2015 to the present. Key trends in corporate climate litigation include:
    • The number of cases concerning ‘climate-washing’ has grown in recent years. 47 such cases were filed in 2023, bringing the recorded total to more than 140. These cases have met with significant success, with more than 70% of completed cases decided in favour of the claimants.
    • There were important developments in ‘polluter pays’ cases: more than 30 cases worldwide are currently seeking to hold companies accountable for climate-related harm allegedly caused by their contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Litigants continue to file new ‘corporate framework’ cases, which seek to ensure companies align their group-level policies and governance processes with climate goals. The New Zealand Supreme Court allowed one such case to proceed, although cases filed elsewhere have been dismissed. The landmark case of Milieudefensie v. Shell is under appeal.
    • In this year’s analysis a new category of ‘transition risk’ cases was introduced, which includes cases filed against corporate directors and officers for their management of climate risks. Shareholders of Enea approved a decision to bring such a case against former directors for planned investments in a new coal power plant in Poland.
  • Nearly 50 of the more than 230 cases filed in 2023 are not aligned with climate goals. Some cases challenge climate action; others do not challenge climate action per se, but are concerned with the way in which it is implemented. Key types of non-aligned climate litigation include:
    • ESG backlash cases, which challenge the incorporation of climate risk into financial decision-making.
    • Strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP) suits against NGOs and shareholder activists that seek to deter them from pursuing climate agendas.
    • Just transition cases, which challenge the distributional impacts of climate policy or the processes by which policies were developed, normally on human rights grounds.
    • Green v. green cases, which concern potential trade-offs between climate and biodiversity or other environmental aims.

Recent previous reports in the series:

2023 snapshot

2022 snapshot

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