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Climate change lawsuits on the rise as science improves & more climate-related laws & policies are passed

Author: The Economist (UK), Published on: 6 November 2017

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" New Green Advocate: Climate change lawsuits ", 2 Nov 2017

As policymakers prepare for the annual UN climate pow-wow in Germany...activists who think too little is being done to meet that goal are turning to the courts. Cases where the negative effects of carbon emissions are central, not tagged on to more direct environmental damage, such as oil spills or the release of noxious chemicals, are on the rise. 

... [T]he Grantham Institute...has found 64 such cases in countries other than America in the past 15 years. 

...The targets are governments, which campaigners argue are doing too little to avert climate change, and big energy firms, which they hold responsible for most greenhouse-gas emissions.

...The legal obstacles are formidable. [M]any courts have peremptorily dismissed climate lawsuits as groundless...[I]t is hard to establish a causal link between a country’s or company’s emissions and the damage wrought by greenhouse gases. Singling out one among countless emitters is a stretch. Even so, the occasional case succeeds.

...The prospect for climate-friendly verdicts is improving...[because of] the growing volume of climate-related commitments for which governments can be held to account [and] advances in climate science.

Globally, the number of national climate-change laws and policies has swelled from around 60 in 1997 to nearly 1,400. A survey in 2012 found that 177 countries had laws, regulations or court rulings guaranteeing the right to a clean or healthy environment. In at least 92 that right was constitutional. 

...The Paris accord is playing a role...[P]laintiffs can assess governments’ and firms’ actions against the 2°C goal.

...Scientists are increasingly confident that they know roughly what shares of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were emitted by individual countries, and even by the biggest corporate polluters. 

...Scientists are also becoming more willing to blame carbon emissions, not just for global warming, but for specific natural disasters such as heatwaves, floods and superstorms. But so far no plaintiff has been awarded damages on the basis of such attribution arguments.

...Plaintiffs are also using established legal arguments, albeit in novel ways—alleging, for instance, that rising sea levels caused by companies’ carbon emissions constitute trespass on county land. They are learning from one another. A lawsuit modelled on Urgenda’s is under way in Belgium.

...Defendants, for their part, usually argue that, whatever the climate science or the harms caused by greenhouse gases, they are simply not liable.

[Also refers to BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and RWE]

Read the full post here

Related companies: RWE