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Climate litigation: why so important for campaigners

July 25, 2022

Climate lawsuits are surging globally, with governments, oil firms and other polluters increasingly finding themselves in court for failing to act on the climate crisis. Data published by the London School of Economics on Thursday revealed that climate-related lawsuits have more than doubled since 2015. According to the report, these cases have played an important role in the movement towards the phaseout of fossil fuels, with some high-profile successes.

“Our goal is to help readers to understand the ways in which the law is being used as a tool to advance a variety of often inconsistent climate-related agendas. An increasing number of litigants are seeking to change the overall design, ambition and implementation of climate action at the national and subnational level”, the authors, Joana Setzer and Catherine Higham wrote.

The study shows that, globally, just over 800 cases were filed between 1986 and 2014, and over 1,200 cases have been filed in the last eight years, bringing the total in the databases to 2,002. Roughly one-quarter of these were filed between 2020 and 2022. 

Among them,  73 ‘framework’ cases challenge governments’ overall responses to climate change. Of the eight framework cases where the country’s highest court has issued decisions, six have had favorable outcomes for climate action. Further cases have been brought against the Carbon Majors and other fossil fuel companies, especially outside the United States, in the last 12 months. Cases against corporate actors are also increasingly targeting the food and agriculture, transport, plastics and finance sectors. In a landmark case last year, a Dutch court ordered Shell to slash its emissions by 45% by 2030. 

The report also highlights five areas to watch in the coming years: cases involving personal responsibility; cases challenging commitments that over-rely on greenhouse gas removals or ‘negative emissions’ technologies; cases focused on short-lived climate pollutants; cases explicitly concerned with the climate and biodiversity nexus; and strategies exploring legal recourse for the ‘loss and damage’ resulting from climate change.

“Climate change litigation continues to evolve rapidly, and we expect that case numbers will carry on growing. We also expect the range of claimants and defendants to continue to diversify, reflecting an increased understanding of the role that multiple actors play in the causes and the solutions to climate change”, the authors conclude.


Source: LSE