Bloomberg journalists Jeremy Hodges, Lauren Leatherby and Kartikay Mehrotra discuss climate lawsuits as a tool to strengthen climate action. Moreover, this new phenomenon is increasingly popular. The Bloomberg journalists have analysed various attempts to sue the biggest polluters and national governments over the effects of climate change.
Increasing number of NGOs have found out that courts are our last, best hope of irreversible harm to our planet and life on it. Julia Olson, an attorney for Our Children’s Trust, says: “The political branches of government have had decades to stop destroying our climate system; now only court-ordered mandates will stop the destruction our governments are perpetuating, and increasingly supporting.” According to Sophie Marjanac, a lawyer at the activist law firm ClientEarth: “It’s a legitimate method of seeking to not only draw attention to the issue of climate change but really hold governments to account because it’s already causing harm to people around the world.” Climate lawsuit can make pressure on governments and companies to take greater action on climate change.
The article distinguishing between suits brought by municipalities against fossil fuel producers, human rights suits and suits addressing causes of climate change.
Suits brought by municipalities against fossil fuel producers are typical for the United States. Plaintiffs sued the world’s biggest oil companies—including Shell, BP, Exxon, Chevron and ConocoPhillips—alleging they deliberately concealed the role fossil fuels have played in speeding up climate change. The Bloomberg journalists have identified California to be a ground zero for climate cases in the U.S., where 8 cities and counties are suing oil companies.
As regards human rights suits, plaintiffs argue that climate change has threatened or taken away populations’ fundamental rights to life, health, food and water. According to the Bloomberg journalists, human rights cases are a small but growing approach to this type of litigation. They mention Ugandan children suing their government for failing to protect them from climate change or Swiss women who sued the country for failure to shield them from climate change’s effects.
Strategy not to focus on climate change itself but to center on factors leading of climate change such as air pollution has paid off particularly well in the U.K. and Germany. NGOs usually claim that the air quality laws are being breached and require authorities to take adequate action. There are currently 28 German cities being subject to cases over illegal exceedance of pollution levels. For instance, DUH, an environmental group, sued municipalities across Germany, pressuring them to enforce EU air pollution limits. In February 2018, Germany’s top administrative court upheld the decisions of regional courts in Stuttgart and Dusseldorf in favor of banning diesel cars. Governments are also urged by the European Commission to step up their actions. It is worth mentioning that the European Commission referred France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania and the United Kingdom to the Court of Justice of the EU for failing to respect agreed air quality limit values and for failing to take appropriate measures to keep exceedance periods as short as possible.