Cracked soil contrasting with grass that used to be there. BenGoode/iStock
Lawsuits over climate change have been lodged against 28 countries since the 1990s, with most of the legal actions coming out of the U.S.
That's according to a new report published by the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science. It found most of the legal actions are targeted at national and local governments but companies are also facing lawsuits.
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Citizens, non-governmental groups, businesses, and even some local governments are launching the lawsuits, blaming governments and corporations for failing to protect them from the impact of climate change. The plaintiffs argue the government agencies and businesses have put their health and livelihood at risk with their anti-green actions.
While the U.S. has seen the most lawsuits, the study found that since 2015 its spreading to other countries including Pakistan, South Africa, and Colombia.
“Holding government and businesses to account for failing to combat climate change has become a global phenomenon," said Joana Setzer, a research fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and co-author of the report. “People and environmental groups are forcing governments and companies into court for failing to act on climate change, and not just in the United States. Now the number of countries in which people are taking climate change court action is likely to continue to rise."
In Trump Era, More Lawsuits Back Climate Protections
The study also found that the lawsuits that backed efforts to curb greenhouse emissions and fight climate change outnumbered those that were aimed at hindering green efforts. Of the lawsuits, 43% were in support of green initiatives while 27% were against fighting climate change. A previous study by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School found lawsuits advancing and upholding climate change protections surpassed those opposing climate protections since Donald Trump became president.
Litigation is Effective
Researchers pointed to an ongoing case in the U.S. as one example of the type of lawsuits that are gaining in popularity. The case Juliana v. U.S. was brought by 21 youths who argue the U.S. government actions that cause climate change are violating their constitutional right to life, liberty, and property. The case has ended up in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland, Oregon where judges will have to decide if it should proceed to trial or if any new fossil fuel projects need to be suspended.
In the Netherlands, a Court of Appeal at The Hauge ruled in Urgenda Foundation v. State of the Netherlands that the government has to embrace much stricter emission reduction targets.
“Litigation is clearly an important part of the armoury for those seeking to tackle climate change," noted Setzer in a press release discussing the research. "Court cases contribute to greater awareness of climate change issues and can force changes in behaviour that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It remains an expensive and potentially risky option, though, if compared to other routes like policy-making.”