Judgment day: the hopes invested in environmental litigation

As the UK Government seems to do a U-turn on key environmental targets, there is an increasing recourse to litigation to force governments as well as companies to comply with their environmental commitments and obligations. According to the UN Global Climate Litigation Report 2023, climate change cases have doubled since 2017.

In its November 2023 Edition, the Law Society Gazette devotes a whole feature to this important topic and spoke to a panel of leading experts in the field, including Hausfeld Of Counsel Ingrid Gubbay, who was instrumental in filing an action with the UN CRC on behalf of 16 child activists, including Greta Thunberg, arguing that positive climate change is a child’s right.

In the context of the climate emergency, the article questions whether we have time to rely on the courts. The lawyers interviewed for the feature argue that we don’t have a choice. The article sets out how climate litigation has become a strategic tool, which is backed up by the LSE research report ‘Global trends in climate change litigation: a 2023 snapshot’. Ingrid Gubbay confirms: “Most of the cases are drawn from human rights law, public and regulatory law, and, more recently, [as in the High Court case against Shell] company law’.

Although the cases are important in setting a framework around climate responsibility and policy, as well as creating heightened awareness among companies, litigation takes a long time - as does the time it takes to get information from government departments and authorities - and time is running out.

The feature also looks at key cases and highlights how judicial reviews are growing in importance in bringing the government to account. In addition, the UK saw its first collective action citing competition abuse caused by alleged non-compliance with environmental law by a water utility. Greenwashing claims are on the rise, and aside advising their clients, law firms also need to scrutinise their own statements.

One thing is clear: new and positive legal precedents help move the dial and seem to be here to stay.

For the full article authored by Joanne Goodman for the Law Society Gazette and all quotes by Ingrid Gubbay and other contributors (p 18-21).

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