The legal battles changing the course of climate change
Governments, fossil fuel firms and airlines are increasingly being met with climate lawsuits. The landmark 2015 case against the Dutch state, filed by the environmental advocacy group Urgenda, was one of the first ripples in what has become a tsunami of climate litigation in recent years.
Climate litigation phenomenon shows no sign of stopping any time soon, with more than 2,500 lawsuits recorded globally, according to databases run by Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. These lawsuits are helping rewrite the public narrative on climate change and, in some cases, are resulting in a real shift in government and corporate policy – whether they win or lose.
For an article featured on BBC Future Planet, its author Isabella Kaminski spoke to Ingrid Gubbay, Counsel at Hausfeld, as the only law firm representative quoted among the featured field specialists.
The feature looks at the kind of changes the most influential lawsuits have made and the extent of their influence. There have been policy shifts, more ambitious greenhouse gas emissions cuts, polluting projects blocked, a general increase of awareness around the climate crisis – often with an impact beyond its original borders.
On the positive side, Ingrid notes that ‘climate litigation in Europe has been one factor driving the development of new corporate sustainability laws. And lawyers expect it to be a recurring theme in annual reporting as companies around the world become subject to stricter disclosure rules’. She also added that litigation has been a big driver of corporate climate risk management in recent years. "These things are rattling the private sector, as they are policymakers."
Unfortunately, enforcement remains a serious problem. But one thing is clear, climate litigation has helped change the narrative and litigation is increasingly being viewed as a serious issue by financial institutions. It has become a transnational movement.