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10 Jul 2024

Unjust transition on trial: Communities and workers litigate to shape corporate practice

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The race to arrest the climate crisis cannot be run fast enough. Realising a fully decarbonised energy system by 2050 requires unprecedented expansion of renewable energy projects, underpinned by record extraction of the transition minerals required to manufacture and operate new solar and wind farms, batteries for electric vehicles and general electrification across the world – even with the adoption of critical policies to curb demand for new mining. Massive investment in the transition is already well underway, with green industrial strategy and the private sector playing pivotal roles in the global clean energy shift. The speed of the transition will depend on investment flows and the retention of public trust to avoid resistance and delays. Yet the disturbing trend of systemic abuse of communities and workers in renewable energy value chains has given rise to a tide of strategic litigation by communities and workers left with no option but to turn to the courts to defend their rights. These lawsuits against renewable energy and transition mineral mining firms result in project delays, “stop orders” and escalating costs - risks which companies and investors can and must avoid through robust  human rights due diligence and better project design.

The new Just Transition Litigation Tracking Tool from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (the Resource Centre) has documented, until 31 May 2024, 60 legal cases launched around the world by Indigenous Peoples, other communities and workers or their representatives directly impacted by human rights harms associated with the growth of the renewable energy value chain. Together, these cases paint a clear picture of the growing refusal by rightsholders to accept these violations as an inevitable cost of the world’s transition. Cases brought against states and/or the private sector in transition mineral mining and three renewable energy sectors (solar, wind and hydropower) challenge a wide range of harms, including environmental abuses (77% of tracked cases), water pollution and/or access to water (80%), and abuse of Indigenous Peoples’ rights (55%), particularly the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC – 35% of cases). As proxies for some of the most salient human rights risks associated with the transition, the prevalence of these types of cases should be a red flag for companies and investors – not only because it poses a threat to the goal of a just energy transition, but also because these are precisely the issues frequently given short shrift as permitting processes are fast-tracked around the world. Expensive, time-consuming litigation can quickly eat up the benefits of such short-cuts.

At a glance


legal cases

filed by people directly impacted by human rights harms associated with the renewable energy value chain


for transition minerals

accounted for two thirds (66%) of cases

Over half

of cases

were related to abuse of Indigenous Peoples' rights

4 in 5


sought or seek to permanently or temporarily halt the project

Other key findings include:

  • Over half of the cases were filed by Indigenous Peoples, mostly in Latin America, but also in the US, Norway, Kenya and Taiwan, challenging a range of human rights abuses.
  • Communities are beginning to demand more from the development of energy transition projects on their lands and impacting their lives, through benefit sharing arrangements that provide decision-making power, benefits in kind and financial gain.
  • While the majority of cases have been brought against transition mineral mining firms, cases against the wind (9), hydropower (9) and solar (2) sectors are on the rise, highlighting the urgent need for more rights-centred operations across the full renewable energy value chain.

Companies accused of violating Indigenous Peoples, local communities’ and workers’ rights along the renewable value chain face costly delays, reputational damage and legal consequences. Initial research reveals this include fines, hefty damages awards, and orders to establish trust funds for harms. More problematic for the transition as a whole, however, is the trend towards orders halting the projects at issue. Nearly 80% of the cases currently included in the Tracking Tool sought or seek to permanently or temporarily halt the project in question as a consequence of alleged human rights and environmental abuses, particularly where firms have failed to properly consult hosting communities. Although these cases seek to challenge the unfair “distribution of benefits and burdens” of the transition - not to stop it - they also make clear that egregious disregard for the human rights of host and frontline communities can lead to precisely this outcome. In the last eight years alone, First Quantum’s Cobre Panama copper mine, Shengli Energy’s solar farm in Taiwan, Vale’s Onça Puma nickel mine in Brazil, CFE’s Gunaa Sicarú wind park in Mexico, the Noranda bauxite mine (licensed to Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners, Noranda Jamaica Partners II and New Day Aluminum Ltd) in Jamaica, and several projects in the US - including Enel’s Osage Wind Farm and Hudbay Minerals’ Rosemont copper mine - saw temporary or final orders to halt operation because of successful court challenges centring on human rights abuses.

Beyond project delays and implications for shareholder returns, these legal outcomes may represent a threat to the speed of the transition as a whole as these cases add up. This is an outcome the world can ill afford, but it is also not inevitable. Mandatory due diligence advances across the world are quickly demanding more from companies in respect of environmental and human rights, while sector-specific regulations that prioritise the rights of frontline communities to the transition are also taking root, from Sierra Leone, Kenya and Mexico, alongside Canada and New Zealand, where community consent as a prerequisite to permitting is now recognised in law in certain circumstances. The risk of corporate liability for failure to adhere to such legal requirements is only set to grow.

These legislative and legal trends should be changing discussions on risk and business models in boardrooms of both transition mineral mining firms and renewable energy companies across the globe.

Proper consideration and implementation of core human rights responsibilities by business from the initial phases of any project offer powerful protection against community and worker conflict and initiation of costly and time-consuming legal cases. They can also make important contributions to building public trust in the global transition to renewable energy, likely while safeguarding the bottom line from these courtroom battles. The growing tide of litigation makes clear that new models of project development that place the rights, interests and ambitions of host communities alongside commercial interests are increasingly non-negotiable – and that any just energy transition will be one that squarely centres commitment by the private sector to shared prosperity, fair negotiations, and a duty of care for the human and environmental rights of those directly impacted by the shift.

Recommendations to companies and investors


Shared prosperity

  • Design and implement projects to deliver shared benefit and avoid harms to rights, including through shared prosperity project models in careful deliberation with all members of affected communities, and on the basis of FPIC for Indigenous Peoples and respecting the values, needs and aspirations of communities and workers.

Corporate duty of care for human rights 

  • Carry out robust human rights and environmental due diligence, along the full value chain; ensure full application of human rights policies at the operational level, including human rights defenders (HRDs) policies and commitment to zero tolerance for reprisals against HRDs; and ensure access to remedy when having contributed to or caused human rights harms. Publicly support existing and emerging human rights and environmental due diligence and corporate accountability legislation.
  • Renewable energy companies should adopt a public commitment to responsible minerals sourcing and engage with the upstream mining sector.

Fair negotiations 

  • Ensure engagement and good-faith consultations with affected stakeholders feed into each step of the human rights due diligence process starting at the earliest possible project phase; put in place continuous engagement processes; ensure Indigenous Peoples can define the way by which their FPIC is achieved.


  • Investors should adopt stewardship and responsible investment policies and engage with investees in the mining and renewable energy sectors to close any gaps in human rights policies and practices.
Speaker: Ubrei Joe Maimoni, Friends of the Earth Nigeria/Africa, at COP28 in Dubai 2023


The enormous challenge – and opportunity – of the global energy transition has never been clearer.  At minimum, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates a sixfold increase in mineral demand by 2040 for renewable energy technologies manufacturing, batteries for electric vehicles and general electrification, while installed capacity of renewables-based electricity generation must triple within the next six years alone if we are to have a hope of reaching net zero by mid-century. The IEA also estimates annual clean energy investment must increase seven-fold to approximately USD 4 trillion by 2030.

Achieving these outcomes will result in enormous benefit for the world, particularly for populations most vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis. But it will also ask a lot from frontline communities, Indigenous Peoples and workers. It will require the use of vast tracts of untouched land for solar installations and wind farms, an enormous increase in extraction of transition minerals – 50% of which are located on Indigenous Peoples’ or peasant lands –  and a massive global workforce shift for those currently employed by the fossil fuel industry, which currently employs 32 million people. Scope for human rights infringements along the renewable energy value chain – and erosion of public trust in this transformation – is therefore also expanding. Research into the human rights policies and practices of the renewable energy and transition mineral sectors increasingly highlights the risk that these industries replicate patterns of abuse endemic to traditional extractive sectors, including unlawful relocations, environmental destruction and cultural harms, amongst other violations. Collective distrust in and resistance by rightsholders to an “unjust transition” is therefore also on the rise – with attendant project delays and potential real consequences for the speed of the transition, which the world can ill afford.

Our research demonstrates the reality of this risk. The new Just Transition Litigation Tracking Tool documents an important new subset of climate justice litigation focused on ensuring a transition to renewable energy that is just and equitable. Typically brought by Indigenous Peoples, other frontline communities, or affected workers, the cases use human rights arguments to assess the “distribution of benefits and burdens” of the transition away from fossil fuels and towards net-zero emissions. Importantly, the cases focus not on stopping the transition, but on shaping the way it takes place, from the perspective of rightsholders themselves.

At launch, the Tracking Tool features 60 such cases initiated over the period of 2011–2024 in jurisdictions across the globe. Given the central role of the private sector in the transition, our research focuses exclusively on cases brought against renewable energy firms (solar, wind and hydropower) and transition mineral mining companies (extracting resources such as bauxite, copper, cobalt, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc). See the full methodology here.

The cases together paint a troubling picture: they concern poor consultation processes, failures to respect the Indigenous Peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), and violations of the rights to a healthy environment and clean water, and personal health – with all the consequences such abuses have. While obstacles to accessing justice remain significant for such workers, Indigenous Peoples and other frontline communities, the Tracking Tool highlights a growing need by rightsholders to turn to courts to advance their rights in the energy transition, where other efforts have failed.

This trend also occurs against the background of legislative momentum around human rights and environmental due diligence, as well as sector-specific regulation – particularly in the Global South, home to many of the world’s transition mineral resources and renewable energy potential – increasingly prioritising the rights of affected communities. A notable increase in legislation protecting community consent and fair negotiations stands as case in point. These include a 2022 Sierra Leone law for the minerals sector, requiring explicit community consent prior to the start of mining operations and granting equal land rights to women. In Kenya, a 2016 law mandates the consent of communities ahead of any sale of land to prevent corruption, which has now been used by Lake Turkana activists fighting acquisition of their land for a wind power project. In Mexico, 2023 amendments to the Mining Law make FPIC of Indigenous Peoples affected by projects a prerequisite for the granting of permits.

The fast-evolving landscape of mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation (mHREDD) provides further bolster to more human rights-centred mining and renewable energy operations ahead, with the notable recent passage of the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive. Other, noteworthy mHREDD advancements include new frameworks in France and Germany, and are being drafted in other countries such as Brazil, Mexico and South Korea.


Rights analysis: same harms, different sectors

At a glance

3 in 4


relate to abuse of rights to a clean, healthy & sustainable environment

4 in 5


relate to water pollution and/or access to water


of cases

relate to abuse of the right to free, prior & informed consent (FPIC)


of cases

were brought due to project impacts on the livelihoods of communities

Human rights abuses across the renewable energy value chain frequently have extensive impacts on the lives and livelihoods of rightsholders beyond the initial fact of the harms themselves.

The majority of cases included in the Tracking Tool, for example, currently concern harmful environmental impacts. Three quarters of cases (77%) relate to rights to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, while four in five (80%) cases are related to water pollution and/or access to water. The UN General Assembly in 2022 acknowledged the deep interconnectedness between environment and more traditional human rights by recognising the right to live in a clean and healthy environment as a fundamental human right. The prevalence of environmental and water rights abuses in the Tracking Tool likely highlights substantial additional rights abuses for the communities experiencing them.

The second largest tranche of cases concerns the rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the right to FPIC (35%), demonstrating the real risks present in the transition for Indigenous Peoples.

Beyond this, our analysis reveals almost half (45%) of the cases in the Tracking Tool were brought due to project impacts on the livelihoods of communities, highlighting the broader effects of some transition projects. Some 32% of lawsuits in the Tracking Tool are linked to land rights and 45% to the impact of projects on notable or protected areas, such as Indigenous Peoples’ sacred land or national parks. A smaller number of cases (20%) also allege violations of the right to health of surrounding communities.

The harms at issue in cases across the renewable energy value chain are also nearly identical, highlighting the commonalities in vulnerability of frontline communities and workers regardless of the point at which they transition to clean energy intersects with their daily lives. While mining projects have historically been the subject of more court challenges, as renewable energy installation deployment progresses, litigation is expected to increase in these sectors.

Transition minerals sector

The mining sector remains home to by far the most cases alleging human rights harms globally, at 67% of all recorded cases in the Tracking Tool.

Of these cases, 83% relate to impacts on the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This is unsurprising, given the mining sector poses environmental concerns spanning from physical disturbances to the landscape, to soil, water and air contamination as well as public safety issues, with half of the allegations in our 2024 Transition Minerals Tracker related to environmental impacts. The 2015 lawsuit filed in Mexico against the Buenavista del Cobre copper mine (part of Grupo México) illustrates the severity of impacts which can be associated with transition mineral projects. Following a toxic spill of chemicals from the mine into local rivers, affected communities initiated legal proceedings after suffering from health damage, loss of livestock and crops, and restricted access to drinking water. The company was ordered to pay various fines, and a trust fund was established to cover the costs of environmental and agricultural remediation projects and compensate for economic damage and health problems.

In another emblematic case, women farmers in Indonesia filed a lawsuit against the state challenging the environmental permit of Dairi Prima Mineral’s zinc mine. They had long raised concerns about the project's impact on their livelihoods and the risk of structural failure of the mine’s planned tailings pond that would store toxic waste from mining activities. In July 2023, the court ordered the revocation of the project’s environmental permit.

Carolina Soto Ramos, Shutterstock (licensed)

Shutterstock (purchased)

Hydropower sector 

Cases against the hydropower sector represent 15% of those included in the Tracking Tool. Nearly 80% of these concern included impacts on access to water rights.

Hydropower plants typically require large reservoirs to provide a steady stream of water, that can drastically change and degrade the landscape and rivers they are built on – generating concerns around whether such energy installations can be characterized as “green” or “clean” in the first place. In Guatemala, the Indigenous community Maya Q´Eqchi filed a complaint alleging that the construction of Oxec’s two hydroelectric dams would violate their rights to life, health, environment and access to water. The Supreme Court ordered a communal consultation process to be conducted before the projects can proceed. Similarly, in Albania, local residents and an NGO asked the court there to halt work on two hydropower plants operated by Gener 2 and Dragobia Energy. They argued the projects could damage the environment in the Valbona Valley National Park and have a negative impact on their livelihoods, and that permits were not granted legally. The High Court suspended the construction of the two hydropower plants.


Wind and solar sectors

Wind (15% of cases tracked) and solar (3% of cases tracked) farms require at least ten times as much space per unit of power as fossil fuel-based energy. Land rights violations are therefore a serious risk for these sectors – set to represent 85% of new installed renewables-based electricity generation by 2030.

The case of Electricité de France (EDF) in Mexico exemplifies these challenges. In 2020, the Indigenous Peoples Zapotec community of Unión Hidalgo, supported by two NGOs, filed a lawsuit against EDF based on the French Duty of Vigilance Law. They claim that EDF did not take adequate measures to prevent human rights abuses and environmental harm in its Gunaa Sicarú wind park project, including effectively consulting the Zapotec community in violation of their right to FPIC. EDF has refuted the claims.

In Kenya, local communities suing Lake Turkana Wind Power and several government agencies over their lack of FPIC and proper compensation for the land acquisition won their case. In October 2021, the court ruled the land titles were irregularly obtained and they were later nullified. Finally, in Portugal, local residents filed a lawsuit to stop a 96-hectare Neoen solar farm project over environmental and health concerns, as well as alleging lack of community engagement, despite their support for the development of renewable energy sources.

Maurizio Di Pietro / Climate Visuals Countdown

Shutterstock (purchased)

Stakeholder analysis: Indigenous Peoples at the forefront

Just transition litigation is largely community-driven. Nearly 40% of cases in the Tracking Tool have been brought by frontline communities seeking to protect their rights, even as many express support for the global energy transition itself. Sometimes these legal actions were also supported by other stakeholders such as NGOs, on behalf of rightsholders (45%) or a public entity (18%). Importantly, over half of the cases (52%) were brought by Indigenous Peoples, highlighting the critical role that Indigenous Peoples play in the energy transition – and the significant risks they currently face as a result. Indigenous Peoples manage over 20% of the Earth’s land surface and 80% of its biodiversity, and 50% of energy transition minerals are located on Indigenous Peoples’ or peasant lands . Analysis for our 2024 Transition Minerals Tracker update also confirms that Indigenous Peoples continue to be disproportionately affected by transition mineral mining operations. Cases involving Indigenous Peoples’ rights were predominantly filed in Latin America, but we also identified cases in the US, Norway, Kenya and Taiwan.

Indigenous Peoples bringing lawsuits often argue for the preservation of their environment, the protection of their land rights, including, where applicable, the right to FPIC in line with article 5 of the 169 ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (7 cases).

A world tour of Indigenous-led legal action against rights abuses in the energy transition 

  • In the United States, the Indigenous Peoples Osage Nation and the US filed a lawsuit against a wind farm owned by Enel Energy and Osage Wind. After lengthy proceedings, the Oklahoma district court ordered the removal of 84-turbines at the Osage Wind Farm to protect the Osage Nation’s sovereignty. Enel Energy has announced plans to appeal the court decision.
  • In Guatemala, the Maya Q’eqchi’ Agua Caliente community initiated legal action against the Fenix nickel mine project (owned by Guatemala Nickel, a subsidiary of Solway). The case was brought before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Court decided in favour of the Indigenous community, finding that the Guatemalan State failed to conduct adequate prior consultation with the Maya Q’eqchi’ Agua Caliente community regarding a mining project affecting their territory.
  • In Brazil, a 2018 court ruling ordered mining giant Vale to pay two Indigenous Peoples’ tribes USD 26.8 million for damages related to river contamination and public health issues caused by the company's nickel extraction activities in the northern state of Pará, Brazil. Additionally, Vale was ordered to suspend operations at its Onça Puma nickel mine, which has been operational for a decade, until it fulfils specified environmental criteria and devises plans to mitigate and compensate the Xikrin and Kayapo tribes.
  • In Kenya, the Indigenous Peoples communities of Marsabit county, challenged the acquisition of land in their region by the company Lake Turkana Wind Power Limited. The Environmental and Land Court ruled in favour of the communities, holding that proper statutory and constitutional procedures were not followed in reserving the land for the project.
  • In Taiwan, the Katatipul community’s Indigenous Peoples claim they have not been properly consulted over Shengli Energy’s solar farm project on their land. In 2020, they filed a lawsuit claiming the construction permit was invalid due to alleged procedural errors during the tribal meeting vote, and to suspend the construction. An administrative court ruled the enforcement of the preparatory permit should be temporarily stopped. In 2022, Taipei High Administrative Court ruled that the construction permit for Shengli Energy's solar farm should be revoked by the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

However, when Indigenous Peoples try to defend their rights, they often face retaliation from states and non-state actors in the form of threats, violence, killings, judicial harassment and other types of attacks, as extensively documented by the Resource Centre. One in four allegations in the 2024 Transition Minerals Tracker relates to an attack against human rights defenders (HRDs), including 14 attacks against HRDs working on transition minerals in Latin America and Indonesia last year. In 2023, 78% of attacks against HRDs recorded in the Resource Centre’s annual analysis of attacks against HRDs targeted climate, land and environmental defenders.

Seven cases in the Tracking Tool include instances of community protests, strikes or blockades, that were in some cases, met with violence. In a lawsuit brought in the UK by Indigenous Peoples from Peru against mining company Xstrata, claimants allege the company provided financial support to the Peruvian police as well as logistical aid, equipment and vehicles, encouraging them to use excessive force against the Tintaya mine protesters. They claim the company failed to implement adequate measures to prevent the violation of protesters' human rights. Two were killed, and numerous others were severely injured and detained by police. Xstrata denies the allegations and stated that “protection [by the Peruvian police] was necessary…”. The case is ongoing.

The risks HRDs face in bringing a legal action against transition projects are increasingly clear, as reflected in these cases. One such matter concerned Berta Cáceres, an international prize-winning environmental and Indigenous Peoples’ rights activist from Honduras, who was assassinated following her opposition to the DESA Agua Zarca dam. In 2018, her family, with the support of an NGO, filed a civil complaint against the Dutch entrepreneurial development bank FMO. The complaint argued Cáceres’ murder and other acts of violence against the community were a predictable and foreseeable consequence of the bank’s funding of the dam. It was reported the FMO was seeking a settlement in this case. This was followed in 2022 by a criminal complaint to the Dutch Attorney General’s office.


Regional analysis: Human rights abuse and the energy transition around the world

The geographical spread of cases included in the Tracking Tool underscores the global nature of the renewable energy transition itself, the scope of its possible impacts, and rising resistance to an unjust transition. 

Latin America

The largest number of cases (58% of cases tracked) have been initiated in Latin America, also home to some of the fiercest community resistance to human rights abuses associated with transition mineral mining, in particular.

Minerals and Mining Group (MMG)’s Las Bambas copper mine in Peru is emblematic, having been described as in a constant “state of conflict”, grounded in community allegations of environmental and human rights harms, including forced relocation, the violent repression of Indigenous Peoples and peasant communities protesting against the mine, as well as killings and imprisonment. Hundreds of transportation days lost and associated costs of USD 9.5million for each day have purportedly been incurred, in addition to an ongoing legal action filed by the affected Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

Diálogo Chino

In another example, in Chile, the El Conchi Viejo Indigenous People – who initiated in 2022 legal action against the El Abra copper mine (a joint venture between Freeport-McMoran and CODELCO) for environmental damages and harms to their cultural heritage – successfully filed a request for protection in 2023, effectively barring the company from carrying out further work on their lands.

Perhaps most strikingly, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in a 2023 landmark decision regarding the Fenix (El Estor) nickel mine in Guatemala, that the rights to judicial protection and collective property under the American Convention on Human Rights had been violated as a result of mining approvals granted without the affected Indigenous Peoples’ FPIC. The Court ordered Guatemala to recognise the property rights of the Indigenous Q’eqchi Peoples. Solway Group, the owner of the mine, has stated it agrees with the Court’s decision.

North America 

Just transition litigation cases are also widespread in North America, with cases from the US representing 15% of those included in the Tracking Tool, centred on challenging violations in both the transition mineral mining and the wind energy sectors. These, too, primarily focus on the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, but over half of the cases also include violations of Indigenous Peoples’ rights, often linked to the land.  For instance, the Apache Stronghold filed a lawsuit to prevent a land transfer of the sacred Oak Flat in Tonto National Forest to Resolution Copper (a joint venture between BHP and Rio Tinto). They argued that Oak Flat is vital to their religious and cultural identity. A US Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the land swap, stating it would not significantly burden the Apache's religious practices, but the Apache Stronghold has said it will take the case to the Supreme Court.

Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, and Europe 

In Africa - representing 8% of the cases tracked - lawsuits have been initiated by both Indigenous Peoples and other local communities. Violations of land rights and impacts on livelihoods are the primary abuses in these cases. Mining projects in DRC, Ghana and Zambia represent over half of the cases included in the Tracking Tool, followed by wind farm projects in Kenya. These cases include a lawsuit by communities from Marsabit, Kenya, against Gitson Energy over its Bubisa wind farm project. They argued that they were not involved in the land allocation process pursuant to the law. In 2017, following an appeal from Gitson Energy, the Court of Appeal upheld the lower court decision: the Commissioner of Lands had no powers to demarcate the contested land and the project should be halted.

In East Asia and the Pacific (8% of the cases in the Tracking Tool), mining is the main sector linked to allegations of abuse. The majority of the lawsuits have been filed in the last four years by Indigenous Peoples and local communities, all concerning the negative impact of just transition projects on their livelihoods. A class action lawsuit filed by over 3,000 residents of Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea, claims that the Panguna Copper Mine caused environmental and social damage. The plaintiffs argue the mine – which shut down in 1989 - has compromised their access to reliable food, fresh water and natural habitats, and that it has destroyed traditional livelihoods in agriculture and fishing, leaving them without sustainable means of living.

In Europe (8% of the cases), lawsuits concern all four sectors covered by the Tracking Tool. The majority have been brought by local communities impacted by the relevant project and/or by NGOs, with only one case filed by Indigenous Peoples (the Fosen Vind wind farm lawsuit filed by the Sámi People in Norway). All the cases tracked in this region refer to insufficient/inadequate consultations for a given project.  The cases also concern allegations of breaching communities’ right to livelihoods, access to water and to a healthy environment. In Kosovo, local NGOs requested the annulment of water permits for the Brezovica hydropower plant operated by KelKos. They argued this project had damaged the ecosystem, led to water scarcity for the residents, and that they were not involved in public debates about the project. The Supreme Court was receptive to local NGOs’ arguments and suspended the water permit.

Remedy analysis: rising consequence for business  - and their investors 

Companies accused of violating the rights of Indigenous Peoples, other local communities and workers along the renewable energy value chain have faced costly consequences.

Initial research reveals these include fines, hefty damages awards, and orders to establish trust funds for harms. But perhaps most importantly, across the 60 cases currently included in the Tracking Tool, 78% sought or seek to permanently or temporarily halt the project at issue as a consequence of alleged human rights abuse.

As a key example, some 32 cases in the Tracking Tool concern insufficient or inadequate consultation; and in 16 of those cases, the court ordered the project to be stopped or the licence revoked. In the case of the Mexico Gunaa Sicarú wind park involving French company EDF, for example, consistent community pushback and a court ruling put an end to the project where communities accused EDF of dividing the community and being at odds with the consultation process carried out by authorities.

In just the last eight years, other major decisions handed down across the globe have had the impact of halting operation either permanently or temporarily at:

At the same time, once the project has been developed and is operating, harm might have already taken place and effective remedy for affected communities may prove elusive. In the case of the Kenyan Lake Turkana Wind Farm, the Kenyan Environment and Land Court ruled that “the only effective remedy would be an order for demolition or removal.” The project is currently operational, but legal challenges are ongoing and expected to last several years – increasing uncertainty for rightsholders, the company and its investors.

Against this background, Boards and executive leadership across the renewable energy value chain will be well placed to reassess the risk of any business-as-usual approach to mineral extraction or new energy generation. Research demonstrates such decisions have major financial implications, with one study on tenure issues in Southeast Asia between 2001 and 2017 demonstrating three-quarters (74%) of the disputes studied spanned more than six years and a sizable portion included lawsuits. Similarly in Kenya, a state frontrunner in renewable energy projects deployment, the cancellation of the Kinangop 60.8-megawatt project in early 2016 following a court case regarding complaints over the land compensation process and widespread community opposition to the project, resulted in a loss for investors amounting to US$66 million.

This is a growing risk – both for the private sector and for a critical element of the global transition to renewable energy: its speed.  While the Tracking Tool includes cases initiated as far back as 2011, 73% of the cases we have tracked have been filed since 2018 – demonstrating this risk is growing in line with renewable energy expansion itself. A more rights-centred approach to doing business related to the energy transition – by respecting environmental rights, undertaking full and proper consultation processes, adhering to FPIC principles, amongst others – can provide powerful protection against this growing risk.

Matyas Rehak, Shutterstock (licensed)

Looking ahead

Just transition litigation cases are cutting-edge, and communities and lawyers bringing them to court also rely on innovative legal arguments to ensure the transition is not only fast but also fair.

Rights of Nature 

The Rights of Nature refer to a legal framework that grants legal rights to ecosystems and natural entities. This ecocentric approach of the law recognises Nature as a subject of law, allowing individuals and communities to act as legal guardians or representatives for natural elements such as rivers, forests and mountains.

Ecuador led the way in 2008 by becoming the first country to enshrine Rights of Nature in its Constitution. The Constitution refers to “Pachamama” (Mother Earth) as a legal entity and affirms the right to respect and support Nature's existence, life cycles, functions and restoration.

In the Tracking Tool, five cases from Latin America refer to the Rights of Nature, including the Llumiragua case in Ecuador. The claimants asked the government to stop the mining activities of the National Mining Company Empresa Nacional Minera E.P. due to contamination of Las Gemelas waterfalls. A court revoked the licence on the basis it violated the Rights of Nature, as well as the  failure to consult with affected communities. The Rights of Nature have also been recognised in other countries such as India (Court decision), the US (local laws), and New Zealand (law). Their use and effectiveness in the just transition litigation sphere is a fast-developing issue to watch.

Benefit sharing

Demands for alternative business models to the status quo, grounded in benefit sharing and co-ownership with affected rightsholders, also appear on the rise. These cases seem to challenge the fundamental premise of typical private sector involvement in such projects: the primacy of shareholder returns to the exclusion of most else. Indigenous Peoples, in particular, are seeking more ownership and control of these projects to determine how the transition will evolve and have a say in the use of natural resources found on their land. There are a few cases referring to benefit sharing on the Tracking Tool and as this concept develop, we may see more cases where plaintiffs seek this type of remedy in the future.

In 2021, the Supreme Court of Norway ruled that licences issued to build and operate two wind farms were void, saying the projects would encroach on the Sámi people’s pastures and violate their right to enjoy their own culture, guaranteed by Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In December 2023 and March 2024, Norway and the Sámi reached an agreement enabling the Sámi people to be more involved and benefit from the project. This includes a veto right for Sámi people on any plans to extend the wind farm’s operating licences after 2045. They are also allocated additional grazing land and some of energy produced by the wind farm for local purposes.

In the Shengli Energy lawsuit (Taiwan), where the Indigenous Katatipul Peoples argue improper consultation, the Council of Indigenous Peoples enacted The Regulation of the Consultation to Obtain Indigenous Tribes’ Participation and Consent to regulate the implementation of Indigenous Peoples’ rights to consultation and consent. This text makes a clear reference to the inclusion of “the mechanism of joint participation or management and benefit-sharing approved by the tribal meeting into the administrative contract.”

Shared prosperity models & Indigenous Peoples' leadership for a just transition

What does a just transition look like for Indigenous Peoples? Explore resources and read the declaration from 87 Indigenous Peoples’ representatives at the Conference on Indigenous Peoples and the Just Transition

As advocacy grounding a just transition in shared prosperity advances, such cases may become more prevalent. As one indication, it is noteworthy that in 2024, 87 Indigenous Peoples’ representatives from 35 countries around the world gathered to draft a powerful Declaration setting out core principles that “recognise and support the need to end fossil fuel reliance and shift to renewable energy as critical in addressing the climate crisis” but equally “advocate for an energy transition that upholds human rights, social equity, cultural integrity, inclusivity and full and effective participation and shared prosperity of Indigenous Peoples…”.  Looking ahead, Indigenous Peoples and other local communities may increasingly require not only that the transition to renewable energy avoids violating their rights, but also provides real opportunity to benefit from the massive transformation the world so urgently requires.

More resources

Just transition litigation tracking tool

Explore the full database of cases

Just energy transition principles for human rights in business and investment

A just transition to clean energy must centre on three core principles: shared prosperity, human rights and social protection, and fair negotiations.

Transition Minerals Tracker

Tracking the human rights implications of the mineral boom powering the transition to a low-carbon economy

Authors and researchers:

  • Business & Human Rights Resource Centre: Elodie Aba, Michael Clements, Belle Benckendorff, Alexandra Glarner, Yutaro Ito, Elena Macomber
  • Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) Human Rights and Business Clinic: Project Coordinators and Doctoral Researchers: Bruna Singh and Stephanie Regalia. Master's Students: Jessica Ewing, Puru Malhotra, Sven Tim Adanguidi, Lama Ghandour, Nasim Moslehi, Rebecca Gueiros Batista Da Silva, and Mishelle Calle Sanchez.


  • Aintzane Marquez, SOMO