Taking a page from the fight against Big Tobacco, climate defenders are increasingly turning to the courts rather than policy-makers in the push toward decarbonization.
“The ruling marks the first time a court has mandated such a policy on a major energy company and, crucially, establishes Shell’s responsibility for the environmental damage caused by its products and a failure to adequately plan to reduce its emissions.”
Citing a new report from risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, Politico notes that the future is likely to see much more climate policy being made in the courts. The study found that some 3,000 climate suits have been filed over the past 20 years, and projects far more to come as public concern grows (and politicians stall and dither).
That a committed court can force rapid change was proven by the German Constitutional Court last month when it ruled that that Berlin’s climate targets “were partly unconstitutional.” That judgement “blew up a carefully calibrated political compromise to minimize the pain of emissions cuts and forced the government to rush through much tougher measures despite screams of protest from vested interests.”
The German ruling, said Verisk Maplecroft environmental analyst Liz Hypes, foreshadows an “open-season on heavy emitters in the oil and gas industry.” She told Politico the climate crisis has moved from being little more than a “brand image issue for companies” to being the vehicle for “genuine legal risks from which the repercussions may be significant.”
But while such judicial activism can rewrite climate policy overnight, campaigners warn that climate cases “are slow and require deep pockets,” and so cannot be the only mechanism to force meaningful action.
“We don’t have the time to fight climate legislation, court ruling by court ruling,” German youth activist Luisa Neubauer told Politico.