USA: Environmental activists use climate change litigations to force oil companies & Govt. to cut greenhouse gas emissions

Author: Umair Irfan, Vox, Published on: 27 February 2019

"Pay attention to the growing wave of climate change lawsuits", 22 Feb 2019

…At least eight US cities, five counties, and one state are suing some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies for selling products that contribute to global warming while misleading the public about their harms. In parallel, 21 young people are trying to suspend fossil fuel development as part of their high-profile climate rights case, Juliana v. United States, against the government…

The current wave of litigation is bringing up new legal questions in the context of climate change for the first time. For local governments suing fossil fuel companies, the fight is over who’s on the hook for paying for the damages stemming from rising average temperatures. In the youth lawsuits, the key issue is whether a stable climate is a civil right.

[An] interesting factor in these cases is that climate science itself isn’t up for debate [anymore]…The dispute, then, is over how to apply existing laws…So far…in these cases, the local governments are claiming fossil fuel producers have created a public nuisance…The argument…is that fossil fuel companies have known for years that their products release greenhouse gases that warm the planet, which in turn harms the public interest…

The [other type of lawsuit is against the] US government [for undertaking] policies that contributed to climate change. This includes leasing public lands for mining, drilling, and fracking to extract fossil fuel. The complaint argues [that] by pursuing these policies, the federal government is denying young people the constitutional right to a public resource, a safe climate. Meanwhile, citizens in the Netherlands, Ireland, and Pakistan have sued their governments for failing to address climate change…

Climate change lawsuits could lead to multibillion-dollar payouts, and force an unwilling government to make cutting greenhouse gases a central priority. Given recent history, many of the nuisance lawsuits against fossil fuel companies will likely be tossed out. But it only takes one successful case to set an industry-rocking precedent…

[Refers to Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and RWE]

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Related companies: BP Chevron ExxonMobil Royal Dutch / Shell (see Shell) RWE