Plaintiffs are finding innovative ways to hold companies liable for climate change
Author: Rebecca Byrnes, GreenBiz, Published on: 13 December 2019
"Will the private sector be held liable for climate change?" 11 Dec 2019
Climate change litigation has had several major successes already. In 2015, the Urgenda Foundation successfully sued the Dutch government for having a greenhouse gas emissions pledge that, it argued, was insufficient to meet the United Nations goal of keeping the global temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius. The case was upheld on appeal in 2018, with a final appeal decision expected to be handed down Dec. 20.
Also in 2015, an appellate court in Pakistan found in favor of plaintiff Ashgar Leghari that the government had failed to fulfill its obligations to help citizens adapt to climate change under its National Climate Change Policy and framework. The plaintiff also argued that the government’s failure violated human rights obligations...
The private sector is increasingly the target of climate change lawsuits, with high profile cases being brought against major oil and gas companies including Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Shell. However, so far, the plaintiffs in these cases have not seen the same successes of those bringing lawsuits against governments.
The first wave of strategic climate lawsuits against corporations tried to hold those corporations to account for their role in generating greenhouse gas emissions that have caused extreme weather events, such as storms and flooding, and slow onset climatic processes, such as sea level rise...
But a 2014 paper by Richard Heede was a major breakthrough in overcoming this challenge. The paper identified the top 90 corporations collectively responsible for 63 percent of global emissions since the Industrial Revolution, dubbing them the "carbon majors."...
Plaintiffs were able to identify and attribute certain proportions of global climate change impacts to each major corporation. In addition, enhancements in the field of study known as attribution science have made it easier to draw the link between particular weather events and climate change.
Heede’s carbon majors study formed the basis of a petition filed with the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights that sought to establish liability against 47 investor-owned major-emitting corporations for their role in contributing to severe typhoons in the Philippines.