USA: California lawsuits against 37 fossil fuel companies may change landscape of climate change litigation, say lawyers

Author: Nicholas M. Berg, David Nordsieck & Michael R. Littenberg, Ropes & Gray LLP, on Lexology (USA), Published on: 11 August 2017

“Spate of Suits Brought by California Communities for Sea Level Rise May Change Landscape of Climate Change Litigation”, 8 Aug 2017

A recent trio of cases filed in California state court seek to hold [37] major fossil fuel companies liable for the effects of sea level rise they allege to be caused by climate change…

A spokesperson for one of the defendants has been quoted as saying in response to the lawsuits that “climate change is a complex societal challenge” that “should be addressed through sound government policy and cultural change…not by the courts.” A spokesperson for Norwegian oil & gas company Statoil, also a named defendant, agreed, stating: “previous cases have been dismissed” because climate change “is a political, not judicial, issue.”…

…It is too early to say how trends and decisions abroad may impact climate change litigation brought here in the U.S. against private companies. But the recent trio of California lawsuits may prove to be bellwethers of whether courts in the U.S. have become more receptive to climate change litigation. Even if the claims are not ultimately successful, the theories of liability that these California communities have asserted—some of which are novel in this context—may reshape the landscape of corporate social responsibility litigation in the years to come as society settles on the appropriate role of the courts in responding to climate change.

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Related companies: Equinor (formerly Statoil)