Climate litigation is becoming a vital aspect of securing climate action and justice, according to findings published last month by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

Globally, the number of climate change court lawsuits has more than doubled since 2017, rising from 884 in 2017 to 2,180 in 2022. While the majority of cases have been filed in the United States, climate litigation is spreading around the world, with roughly 17% of cases now being recorded in poor countries, including Small Island poor States.

These legal actions were filed in 65 different entities throughout the world, including international, regional, and national courts, tribunals, quasi-judicial bodies, and other adjudicatory bodies, as well as UN special procedures and arbitration tribunals.

The Global Climate Litigation Report: 2023 Status study is based on a review of cases involving climate change law, policy, or research collected by the Sabin Center's US and Global Climate Change Litigation Databases between December 31, 2022 and December 31, 2023.

It was released on the one-year anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly's affirmation of access to a clean and healthy environment as a universal human right.

The study summarizes significant climate litigation cases over the last two years, including historic breakthroughs demonstrating that as the frequency and volume of climate litigation increases, the body of legal precedent grows, producing an increasingly well-defined field of law.

The report demonstrates how vulnerable groups' voices are being heard around the world with 34 cases have been brought by and on behalf of children and youth under the age of 25, including girls as young as seven and nine years old in Pakistan and India, respectively, while plaintiffs in Switzerland are making their case based on the disproportionate impact of climate change on senior women.

Notable cases involved challenges to government decisions based on a project's incompatibility with the Paris Agreement's goals or a country's net-zero pledges. Action against corporations, including cases attempting to hold fossil fuel companies and other greenhouse gas emitters accountable for climate harm were prominent.

The bulk of ongoing climate litigation, according to the report, falls into one or more of six categories: cases based on human rights enshrined in international law and national constitutions; challenges to domestic non-enforcement of climate-related laws and policies; and litigants seeking to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

The remaining cases concern corporate liability and responsibility for climate harms, advocates for greater climate disclosures and an end to greenwashing; as well as failures to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The report demonstrates how courts are discovering strong human rights connections to climate change, resulting in greater protections for society's most vulnerable groups, as well as increased accountability, transparency, and justice, compelling governments and corporations to pursue more ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation goals.

According to the study, the number of cases involving climate migration, lawsuits brought by Indigenous peoples, local communities, and other groups disproportionately affected by climate change, and cases addressing liability following catastrophic weather events would increase.  However, it sees difficulties in using climate attribution knowledge, as well as an increase in "backlash" actions against litigants seeking to repeal legislation that promote climate action.

According to Michael Gerrard, Sabin Center Faculty Director, there is a troublingly expanding gap between the level of greenhouse gas reductions the world needs to achieve in order to fulfill its temperature targets and the activities governments are actually doing to reduce emissions.

“This inevitably will lead more people to resort to the courts. This report will be an invaluable resource for everyone who wants to achieve the best possible outcome in judicial forums, and to understand what is and is not possible there,” he said.

Climate policies, according to UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen, are well behind what is required to keep global temperatures below the 1.5°C threshold, with extreme weather events and scorching heat already burning our world.

“People are increasingly turning to courts to combat the climate crisis, holding governments and the private sector accountable and making litigation a key mechanism for securing climate action and promoting climate justice.”

DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.

DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.

WhatsApp Icon