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17 Jan 2022

Lisa Benjamin, Akriti Bhargava, Benjamin Franta, Karla Martínez Toral, Joana Setzer, & Aradhna Tandon, Climate Social Science Network

New Climate Social Science Network report analyses “greenwashing” litigation; incl. recommendations for companies, policymakers, NGOs & lawyers

"CSSN Research Report 2022:1 - Climate-Washing Litigation: Legal Liability for Misleading Climate Communications. Policy Briefing", Jan 2022

This research report aims to enhance the legal community’s understanding of climate-related ‘greenwashing’ litigation. We analyse this type of litigation, which can also be described as ‘climate-washing’ litigation, by examining key cases and developments, particularly cases and complaints brought against the largest emitters of greenhouse gases (predominantly non-state actors). The paper is designed to address the lack of examination of this specific type of litigation to date.

The need to combat greenwashing [the use of unsubstantiated or misleading claims about, or selective disclosure of, environmental performance or best practice for commercial or political gain] came under the spotlight at COP26... There, the UN Secretary-General announced a new ‘High-Level Expert Group’ to establish clear standards to measure and analyse net-zero commitments from non-state actors (Guterres, 2021). An International Sustainability Standards Board was announced too, to develop a global baseline of sustainability disclosure standards to meet investors’ information needs (IFRS, 2021). And the UK Financial Conduct Authority published a consultation paper on sustainability disclosure requirements and investment labels to ensure that asset managers do not mislead investors about the ‘greenness’ of their investment products (FCA, 2021). These moves followed pressure that was already mounting from a wide range of stakeholders who have promised to hold companies, banks, asset managers and insurers to account in relation to their climate change claims and targets. These developments are likely to motivate a rise in legal and activist action against greenwashing, amplifying an existing trend in climate litigation that is likely to escalate in the near future.

Structure of the paper and data sources:

Section 1 defines greenwashing in more detail, plus climate-washing and climate-washing litigation.

Section 2 provides an in-depth review of actual and potential climate-washing cases, classified according to the type of misleading statements upon which such cases are based.

Section 3 offers practical recommendations for various actors in the context of climate-washing...