Climate Change Litigation


Students, you should be aware of climate change litigation, which has been growing in importance over the past three decades, as a way of either advancing effective action on climate change, as far as activists are concerned, or delaying meaningful change, mostly by fossil fuel companies. 

You should specifically be aware of the growing focus in climate cases on human rights and the different strategies used in recent litigation, mainly against major fossil fuel companies, as well as those governments that flout Climate Change.

Climate Change on the global agenda

The consolidation of Climate Change on the global agenda has led to the emergence of this new class of litigation.

Thus creating pressure on political and business leaders around the world and prompting change.

In this regard, claimants are bringing novel and creative legal arguments, and, in some cases, courts are demonstrating a willingness to take creative approaches to these issues, as global awareness of environmental imperatives grows.

Greenhouse gas mitigation

While governments continue to bear the brunt of the claims, the trend in bringing claims against major carbon emitting corporations is continuing and is expected to grow significantly henceforth.

Similarly, cases against other corporates, including financial institutions and investors, are also anticipated to increase as communities and shareholders seek accountability for their role in greenhouse gas mitigation.

It is increasingly expected that adaptation and climate resilience issues may underpin future litigation, particularly in the wake of significant climatic events, such as the recent dreadful Australian and Californian bushfires.

The recent VicForests decision is one such example.

2020 also formally sets the start of the commitments made by nations under the Paris Agreement, which should provide a setting for future litigation across a number of fronts.

In view of the foregoing, litigation will increasingly be used as a tool to achieve outcomes consistent with a net zero emissions future.

Climate Action

The climate revolution that has taken place over the last few years, the alarming reports by the UN’s Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has reported the warmest summers ever, in a row, as well as the icebergs and glaciers that are suddenly melting, have pushed climate change to the top of the public agenda.

Noting that climate change is such a complex issue, which does not follow country borders, this means that only an international approach will deliver meaningful solutions.

Government, business and consumers all need to acknowledge their responsibility and contribute to solutions to climate change.

The adage “all hands on deck” becomes infinitely crucial if mankind is to tackle climate change successfully.  In this regard, no instrument can be ignored.

An interesting question in this context is: how strong are the legal instruments that can help us to stop climate change?

If these instruments are strong enough, they could be the key to forcing solutions.

Also, those who bear the brunt of climate change could be rewarded damages from countries with very high greenhouse gas emissions.

We refer here to people in low lying areas who have hardly contributed to anthropogenic climate change, but do suffer from its effects the most.

By the way, did you know that the places below are relocating people due to rising sea levels caused by climate change?


Kiribati, a tiny nation of low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean, is particularly vulnerable to rising seas. Former president Anote Tong has long campaigned for action to prevent the islands being submerged.

Vunidogoloa, Fiji

Communities in Fiji, however, also face an existential threat from rising sea levels. In 2014, residents of the village of Vunidogoloa abandoned their homes and relocated inland, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Shishmaref, Alaska, US

The roughly 600 inhabitants of Shishmaref, a village on a small island off the coast of Alaska, are facing a move because of climate change.

The villagers voted in 2016 to relocate because their coastline was melting and falling into the sea.

Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, US

The 29 remaining homes on Isle de Jean Charles in southeastern Louisiana are sinking into the Gulf of Mexico.

Related Articles



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

You Might Also Like This

Author Profile

Goodspeed Kopolo
Goodspeed Kopolo
- Former Senior Programme Officer at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification- Former Head of Emissions Trading at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change- Former Industrial Engineer at the United Nations Industrial Development OrganizationFollow the social media links below to read more about the anchor.

More articles ―