The total number of climate change court cases has more than doubled since 2017 and is growing worldwide. These findings, published last week by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, show that climate litigation is becoming an integral part of securing climate action and justice.
The report, Global Climate Litigation Report: 2023 Status Review, is based on a review of cases focused on climate change law, policy or science collected up to 31 December 2022 by the Sabin Center’s US and Global Climate Change Litigation Databases.
Despite improvement in countries’ mitigation and adaptation targets, and despite numerous corporate pledges to achieve net-zero emissions in the future, the international community is still a long way from achieving the goals and objectives of the Paris Agreement. The report shows that climate litigation cases are on the rise in response, demonstrating the financial impacts of climate change inaction. The report provides an overview of key climate litigation cases from the past two years.
As climate litigation increases in frequency and volume, the body of legal precedent grows, forming an increasingly well-defined field of law. These legal actions were brought in 65 bodies worldwide: in international, regional, and national courts, tribunals, quasi-judicial bodies, and other adjudicatory bodies, including special procedures of the UN and arbitration tribunals.
According to the report, most ongoing climate litigation falls into one or more of six categories:
- Cases relying on human rights enshrined in international law and national constitutions.
- Challenges to domestic non-enforcement of climate-related laws and policies.
- Litigants seeking to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
- Advocates for greater climate disclosures and an end to greenwashing.
- Claims addressing corporate liability and responsibility for climate harms.
- Claims addressing failures to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
In the future, the report predicts a rise in the number of cases dealing with climate migration, cases brought by Indigenous peoples, local communities and other groups disproportionately affected by climate change, and cases addressing liability following extreme weather events.
The report also anticipates challenges in applying the science of climate attribution as well as a rise in “backlash” cases against litigants which aim to dismantle regulations that promote climate action.
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