Lawyers and advocates stepped up the fight against climate change last year by pursuing a rising number of legal cases around the world that aim to test the limits of national laws.
Climate change cases numbered nearly 900 in 24 nations as of March, according to a survey by UN Environment and Columbia Law School, marking a steady increase in lawsuits filed to hold governments and companies to account over carbon pollution.
Here are four cases whose outcomes, some expected this year, could reshape the roles and responsibilities of governments and businesses in tackling climate change:
URGENDA FOUNDATION V. NETHERLANDS
This landmark case energised the climate movement in 2015 when a district court sided with the nearly 900 Dutch citizens behind it, ordering their government to cut greenhouse gas emissions faster.
It was “one of the most important climate change decisions ever issued”, said Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law in New York. But the outcome is now being appealed and a decision could be handed down as early as this year, said Gerrard.
JULIANA V. UNITED STATES
The trial in this federal suit filed by a group of 21 US teenagers could start in February 2018. Building on the precedent established by the Urgenda case, the young people from Oregon charge their government’s climate policy is inadequate and flouts their constitutional right to live in a habitable atmosphere.
The case is now stalled amid efforts by the US government – fearful it will lead to a constitutional crisis – to prevent it going forward.
LLIUYA V. GERMANY
A Peruvian farmer, Saúl Luciano Lliuya, is seeking $20,000 in damages from a large German energy utility based half-way around the world.
Lliuya argues that RWE AG holds some responsibility – by emitting planet-warming gases – for the melting of glaciers and rising water level of a lake near his Andean town.
EXXON MOBIL V. MAURA TRACY HEALEY
Exxon Mobil is battling attorney generals in Massachusetts and New York who are investigating the oil giant, after news reports charged in 2015 that its own scientists had found cutting fossil fuel use was needed to slow down climate change.
Exxon’s case against Massachusetts’ attorney general Maura Healey and a similar one against her New York counterpart seek to derail subpoenas to obtain the company’s internal documents on climate science.
Thomson Reuters Foundation