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Report analyses trends in climate litigation, including diverse strategies used against companies

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8 July 2020

New article analyses global developments in climate change litigation

Author: Matthew Green, Valerie Volcovici, & Emma Farge, Reuters

"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.

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7 July 2020

Report: Global Climate Lawsuits Against Governments and Polluters on the Rise

Author: Dana Drugmand, Desmog

...That report, published July 3 by the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, provides an overview of climate change lawsuits around the world including key developments between May 2019 and May 2020...While a majority of climate-related lawsuits are routine cases such as regulatory proceedings or challenges to fossil fuel permitting, cases are also being brought more strategically as a way to hold governments and companies accountable for damaging climate impacts...The report finds an “uptick in litigation relying on human rights arguments over the past 12 months.”...Human rights are starting to emerge in litigation or quasi-judicial proceedings against large fossil fuel companies – companies that researchers have identified as “carbon majors.” A lawsuit in France against the oil company Total, for example, claims the company’s business is not aligned with a French law requiring corporations to identify and mitigate risks to human rights and the environment...

Most litigation against fossil fuel companies or “carbon majors” relating to climate change is in the U.S. These cases are increasingly being brought with diverse legal theories including two new cases filed in June 2020 under state consumer protection statutes...Other cases have been brought against companies claiming investor and consumer fraud as well as misleading advertising. A high-profile investor fraud case brought by the New York Attorney General against ExxonMobil was dismissed last year, but three other attorneys general have since brought similar cases focusing on consumer fraud claims. Most recently, attorneys general in Minnesota and Washington DC brought consumer fraud lawsuits against Exxon and several other Big Oil defendants...

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3 July 2020

Global trends in climate change litigation: 2020 snapshot

Author: Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics

...This report reviews key developments around the world in climate litigation over the period May 2019 to May 2020, in the latest in our annual series...It explores the continued and growing focus in climate cases on human rights and the different strategies used in recent litigation against major fossil fuel companies. It also offers insights and suggestions for how litigants and policymakers could measure the impacts of climate litigation...

Main messages

  • From May 2019 – May 2020 climate litigation cases were filed across six continents. They include complaints made to National Contact Points for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and to UN Special Rapporteurs.
  • Outside the Unites States, trends in the type of plaintiff and defendant are similar to previous years: over 80 per cent of these cases have been brought against governments, typically by corporations or individuals. Climate change was at the centre of the legal argument in about 41 per cent of cases, and was a peripheral issue in the remaining 59 per cent.
  • For non-US cases, 58 per cent of cases had outcomes favourable to climate change action, 33 per cent had unfavourable outcomes, and 9 per cent had no discernible likely impact on climate policy...

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