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New article analyses global developments in climate change litigation

"Climate battles are moving into the courtroom, and lawyers are getting creative," 3 Jul 2020

Climate change may be having its day in court. With the slow pace of international climate negotiations, lawyers from Switzerland to San Francisco are increasingly filing lawsuits demanding action. 

And they are getting creative — using new legal arguments to challenge companies and governments before a judge...

Two decades ago, only a handful of climate-related lawsuits had ever been filed worldwide. Today, that number is 1,600, including 1,200 lawsuits in the United States alone, according to data reported Friday by the London School of Economics. 

“The courts are an increasingly important place for addressing the problem of climate change,” said Hari Osofsky, the dean of Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs. 

Already, climate campaigners are seeing glimmers of success. 

In the Netherlands in December, the country’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling in favour of the Urgenda campaign group’s demand that the Dutch government move faster to cut carbon emissions...

And in January, a judge in Switzerland acquitted a dozen climate protesters from trespassing charges, filed after the group staged a tennis match within a branch of Credit Suisse in 2018 to draw attention to the bank’s fossil fuel loans...

As rulings that compel governments to cut emissions remain rare, lawyers still see promise in targeting large, polluting companies. Such cases in the past tended to accuse coal-fired power stations or government of failing to limit emissions. Cases now are being fought on arguments such as consumer protections and human rights. 

This shift been especially pronounced in the United States, where more than a dozen cases filed by states, cities and other parties are challenging the fossil fuel industry for its role in causing climate change and not informing the public of its harms.