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Article

6 Jan 2022

Author:
Dana Drugmand, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)

Commentary: Role of climate litigation in the fight for climate accountability

"The Rise in Forward-Looking Corporate Climate Cases: From Shell to Santos", 5 Jan 2022

Climate litigation has taken on even greater importance after the failure of COP26 to deliver the action and resources required to accelerate the energy transition and remedy mounting climate harms. As progress in international negotiating rooms stalls, litigation in national and regional courtrooms plays an ever more critical role in efforts to compel urgently needed climate action. Those cases focus on holding governments and, increasingly, corporations accountable for their climate inaction and ongoing contributions to global warming, which gravely threaten human rights. 

Companies in high-emitting sectors are facing mounting public scrutiny and potential legal liability over the incompatibility of their operations with a safe climate future. From expanding oil and gas production to greenwashing carbon-intensive products, the conduct of the fossil fuel industry and other polluting sectors is subject to a rising number of legal challenges. More and more, the focus of those challenges is shifting from companies’ historical contribution to climate change and past misrepresentations of climate science to their current role in prolonging the fossil fuel era and their present claims about the climate impacts of their products... 

A growing number of lawsuits demand that companies align their operations with the emissions reductions that science shows are necessary to avoid further harm to people and the planet. Courts are being called upon not only to hold companies accountable for their contributions to the present climate crisis and its devastating impacts but increasingly to compel them to act now to prevent ongoing and future harm. This kind of forward-looking corporate accountability is indispensable to climate justice.