With more than 1,300 legal actions on the books in 28 countries since 1990, a new report is pointing to litigation as a powerful tool for addressing governments’ and corporations’ role in the climate crisis.
“Holding government and businesses to account for failing to combat climate change has become a global phenomenon,” concluded co-author Joana Setzer of the Grantham Institute and the London School of Economics. “People and environmental groups are forcing governments and companies into court for failing to act on climate change, and not just in the U.S. The number of countries in which people are taking climate change court action is likely to continue to rise.”
While the famously litigious United States accounts for 1,023 of the cases, the report documents 94 in Australia, 53 in the United Kingdom, 17 in New Zealand, 13 in Spain, and five each in in Brazil and Germany.
“Climate change litigation continues to expand across jurisdictions as a tool to strengthen climate action,” the report states. “The rise in strategic and routine cases, a ramp-up in legal action by NGOs, the expansion of climate change suits into other areas of law, and improvements in climate science suggest that the use of climate change litigation as a tool to effect policy change is likely to continue.”
Over the last 2½ years in Donald Trump’s United States, “lawsuits have sought to prevent his attempts to undo environmental regulations,” The Guardian adds. “An analysis of 154 cases in the report shows that no such reversal of a climate regulation brought before the courts has yet survived a legal challenge.”
Elsewhere, the UK-based paper cites a “landmark case” in Pakistan in 2015, where south Punjabi farmer Asghar Leghari successfully argued his human rights had been violated by the government’s failure to address the impacts of climate change. “He alleged that his leaders were failing to ensure water, food, and energy security in the face of the challenges posed by climate change. The court found in his favour, and one of the outcomes was the establishment of a climate change commission.”In The Netherlands, the Urgenda Foundation is still awaiting the results of an appeal on its successful court argument that the country is obliged to set tougher emission reduction targets. Client Earth in the UK has won court actions over illegal levels of air pollution, and the United Nations human rights committee is currently considering an action by eight residents of the Torres Strait Islands off the northern tip of Australia, demanding the country’s climate-denying government reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and adopt adequate coastal defence measures.