Climate change lawsuits are on the rise
Katowice (Poland): More and more people around the world are increasingly challenging governments and companies, largely oil majors, in courts to deliver more on climate-related commitments in order to combat the threat of climate change.
A latest UN Environment study finds the US has 654 climate change litigation cases — almost three times that of the rest of the world combined — and that countries in which climate change cases have been filed have tripled since 2014.
“Legal and institutional transformation is needed to support global and local efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels since climate change is the justice challenge of our century,” said Marie-Claire Cordonier, Professor of University of Waterloo and Senior Director of the Centre of International Sustainable Development Law.
In October, three German families filed a suit against the German government arguing that the government is violating their constitutional rights to life and health, property and occupational freedom by failing to take measures to meet the national 2020 climate protection target.
A group of young Canadians in November initiated an action against their government alleging that it is infringing upon their generation’s fundamental rights by failing to enact a more ambitious emissions reduction target, and for failing to even take the steps needed to meet the current weak target.
This year as people around the world headed to courts with nations failing to deliver more concrete action on climate change mitigation, courts increasingly ordered governments to deliver the urgent cuts in emissions.
Judging by the current rate at which these cases are being filed against governments, this is likely to only be the tip of the (melting) iceberg in 2019, say experts.
Wendel Trio, Director of CAN-Europe, which supports the legal action against the European Union, said: “Ordinary families from different EU member states and outside have launched a complaint against failing EU climate legislation because they are already feeling the impact of climate change on their lives today.”
In the US, which pulled out of the historic Paris Climate Change Agreement last year, 21 young people have filed a landmark case against the US federal government seeking comprehensive measures for ‘climate recovery’.
They may finally get their day in court in 2019 after multiple delays caused by a series of challenges by the Trump administration.
The study by the UN Environment has identified key trends in worldwide climate change litigation, including a rise in cases that seek to hold governments to account for climate-related commitments.
The report, “Status of Climate Change Litigation — A Global Review” by the UN Environment and Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, finds a proliferation of climate change cases, many of them filed by citizens and non-government organisations around the world.
And it’s not just coalitions of non-government organisations and citizens – as seen in recent European cases outlined in the report – that are using the courts in efforts to overturn government decisions seen to exacerbate climate change.
The findings make clear that reliance on technology and non-climate policy initiatives are not sufficient to deal with the threat of climate change. Climate laws and policies, it concludes, are a critical part of any strategy to deal with the threat of climate change.