Climate litigants look beyond Big Oil for their day in court

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) – Airlines, farming and other heavy polluting industries have started to join oil giants as the main targets of climate change lawsuits, as campaign groups try to get their day in court with some of the world’s biggest polluters.

More than half of the 38 climate lawsuits filed against businesses globally last year took aim at firms outside their familiar fossil-fuel hunting ground, including plastics, agriculture, transport and clothing companies, according to a report from the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

Climate litigation has become a crucial part of the toolkit to force companies and governments to account over their climate promises and to boost action to slow global warming.

The number of climate change cases have more than doubled since 2015, the LSE report said. As many as 500 climate cases have been filed globally in the past two years alone. A Dutch judge ordered that Shell slash its emissions harder and faster last year, in a sign that some European judges at least were willing to side against big industry.

“Climate litigation cases have played an important role in the movement toward the phase-out of fossil fuels,” Joana Setzer and Catherine Higham, the authors of the report, said.

Historically, the vast majority of climate cases have been filed in the US but that equation is changing. A growing number of cases are cropping up in developing nations with 32 filed last year as they bear the brunt of a rapidly warming world without the resources to fight it.

A young indigenous person and a university lecturer in Guyana are fighting against the country’s approval of oil extradition licences which they say violates their constitutional rights. While in Argentina four separate claims against offshore drilling include arguments over excessive emissions and their impact on future generations.

Despite the broader focus the vast majority of climate suits are filed against governments with 70 per cent of all cases brought last year holding lawmakers to account over their ambitious climate pledges.

As the appetite for fighting for climate rights grows so too will the sorts of cases judges have to deal with. there will likely be more cases focusing on individual responsibility for harm done to the climate, cases challenging net zero commitments, and those focused on specific pollutants like carbon and methane, Setzer and Higham said.

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