Climate activists turning to the courts

5 Jul 19

Climate change lawsuits have been launched in at least 28 countries around the world, say academics.

A report published in London shows that climate change litigation is most prevalent in the United States but is also spreading to new countries.

Since 2015 cases of climate change litigation have occurred for the first time in Indonesia, Pakistan, South Africa, Norway and Colombia.

The report by the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Global trends in climate change litigation: 2019 snapshot, is published as part of London Climate Action Week being held by the Greater London Authority.

“Holding government and businesses to account for failing to combat climate change has become a global phenomenon,” said Joana Setzer, research fellow at the Grantham Research Institute 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.”

Setzer added: “Until recently businesses might not have considered a climate change lawsuit to be a risk, but this is something all corporations should now be taking into account.”

According to the report, most of the legal actions have been launched against governments, however companies are also being targeted for failing to incorporate climate change into their decision-making and for failing to disclose risks to their shareholders.

Citizens, non-governmental organisations, businesses and even local governments are taking businesses and governments to court for failing to protect them from the effects of devastating climate change – or for contributing to it.

Research shows that climate change court cases are increasingly involving non-governmental organisations as the plaintiffs taking on governments and corporations.

Setzer said: “Litigation is clearly an important part of the armoury for those seeking to tackle climate change. 

“Court cases contribute to greater awareness of climate change issues and can force changes in behaviour that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

  • Gavin O'Toole

    A freelance journalist. He has written six books about Latin America and taught the politics of the region at Queen Mary, University of London.

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