LONDON, May 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A growing
number of people are going to the courts to try to overturn
government decisions seen to exacerbate climate change,
according to a global survey of climate change litigation
published on Tuesday.
The cases range from efforts to push governments for more
aggressive national policies to reduce or prevent greenhouse gas
emissions to lawsuits over the expansion of airports and coal
mines, or concerning the development of renewable energy
Some 884 climate change cases had been filed by March in 24
countries in Africa, Asia, Pacific, Europe and the Americas. The
United States had the highest number of cases - 654 - according
to the survey carried out by U.N. Environment and the Columbia
Law School's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.
A survey of climate change-related lawsuits decided before
2014 found cases in just 12 countries, the researchers said.
"Judicial decisions around the world show that many courts
have the authority, and the willingness, to hold governments to
account for climate change," said Michael Burger, executive
director of the Sabin Center.
"In the United States, climate change litigation has been
absolutely essential," he said, citing an early lawsuit
demanding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulate
greenhouse gas emissions, and a recent case claiming a
constitutional right to a stable climate system.
"Similar litigation all over the world will continue to push
governments and corporations to address the most pressing
environmental challenge of our times," Burger said in a
About 177 countries recognise the right of citizens to a
clean and healthy environment, and courts are increasingly being
asked to define the implications of this right in the age of
climate change, the researchers said.
With the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change set to
come into effect in 2018, citizens, companies and
non-governmental organisations can now argue in some
jurisdictions for concrete measures to mitigate climate change.
Governments are nearly always the defendants in climate
change cases, and many lawsuits are filed by individuals and
NGOs, the survey found.
In the future, cases related to the rights of people forced
to leave their homes because of climate change are expected to
increase, with some predicting the number of "climate refugees"
could reach as high as 1 billion people by 2050, the researchers
"It's patently clear we need more concrete action on climate
change, including addressing the root causes and helping
communities adapt to the consequences," said Erik Solheim, head
of U.N. Environment.
"The science can stand up in a court of law, and governments
need to make sure their responses to the problem do too," he
(Reporting by Alex Whiting @Alexwhi, Editing by Laurie
Goering.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking
and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)