Climate change lawsuits more than double in 5 years as impacts hit home

| Thu, 27 Jul 2023 03:00:00 GMT

By Gloria Dickie

July 27 (Reuters) – The number of court cases related to climate change has more than doubled in five years as impacts ranging from shrinking water resources to dangerous heatwaves hit home for millions, a report said on Thursday.

Some 2,180 climate-related lawsuits have been filed across 65 jurisdictions over the past five years, according to the report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and New York’s Columbia University, which tracks ongoing climate cases in a global database.

As of 2017, there were just 884 cases documented in 24 jurisdictions, the report said.

“We’re seeing a huge increase in the number of cases,” said Maria Antonia Tigre, a senior fellow in global climate litigation at Columbia’s Sabin Center, who said the number of cases filed per year has doubled in the past five years.

While the United States still dominates with more than 1,500 cases, other countries are seeing increases. About 17 percent of cases have been filed in developing countries, according to the report, with rainforest-rich Brazil and Indonesia among the countries seeing the most.

As the public looks to governments and corporations to curb greenhouse gas emissions – and suffers the consequences when they don’t — “people are increasingly turning to the courts for answers,” said Andrew Raine, head of UNEP’s international environmental law unit.


In a landmark 2021 ruling, a Dutch court ordered Shell to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent from 2019 levels by 2030.

And thousands of elderly Swiss women have taken a case to the European Court of Human Rights, alleging their government’s “woefully inadequate” climate efforts have violated their human rights.

Many cases involve claims based on accusations of corporate greenwashing or advocating for greater climate disclosures. Some seek to hold governments to account for not enforcing climate-related laws and policies.

But experts said they expect more “backlash” cases in future as companies seek to protect fossil fuel operations and assets, as well as more cases brought forward by vulnerable groups suffering extreme weather impacts from climate change.

Youth climate activists have already played a central role, with 34 cases brought forward on behalf of children, teens, and young adults. Litigation targeting the disruptive actions of climate activists is also on the rise, Tigre said. (Reporting by Gloria Dickie in Toronto; Editing by Conor Humphries)

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