Climate Change Litigation for Beginners

 

The University of Victoria

An online library for beginners to learn about the various forms that climate change litigation is taking all throughout the world.

Disclaimer: This website is a work in process. The information on this website is written by students. It is intended to be an educational tool for the general public. It does not intend to cover all climate-related litigation. Nothing in this website should be construed as legal advice.

Climate change litigation is booming, with many new cases being brought forward throughout the world.

Climate change litigation is an umbrella term that may be used for any lawsuit broadly connected to climate change.

One example are lawsuits brought by individuals, cultural minority groups, indigenous peoples or environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) against a federal state or a sub-state/province, seeking stricter climate protection measures. Such lawsuits can target a specific law, program or policy which the litigants deem to be insufficient. In the absence of such a law, program or policy, litigants may seek an order by the court to force the legislature or government to enact climate legislation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Another example are motions for judicial review of particular projects, such as the expansion of an oil pipeline, construction of an airport or highway, or authorization to extract natural resources, which are claimed to negatively affect the climate.

Lawsuits against private companies (particularly oil or energy companies), aiming to force them to reduce their carbon footprint, are another example of climate change related litigation.

On the other hand, companies or individuals may file lawsuits against a federal or sub-state government challenging climate regulations which they deem to be too strict.

Climate change litigation has boomed in recent years, with new cases being brought weekly in different countries around the world.

The United States has been at the forefront, with more than a thousand lawsuits relating to climate change pending or adjudicated (material on US cases can be found on the website of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law).

Other countries which have seen large numbers of climate change related cases are Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada, but litigation is also advancing in countries of the global South such as India, Pakistan and Brazil (statistics and material on climate change litigation outside the USA can be found on the website of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment).

During the early days of climate change litigation, few people may have believed that such cases can ever be successful in courts of law, or that they can have any substantial impact on a country’s climate policies.

In recent years, however, litigants have achieved significant victories.

Read more…

Our Latest Addition!

References re Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

Jurisdiction:                     Canada Type of claim:                  Anti-regulatory legislation Summary of result:      GGPPA is constitutional, and this legislation falls under the federal government’s power over issues of national concern. Judgment...

Other Recent Cases and Initiatives

Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC v. Mivasair

Case Name: Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC v. Mivasair Jurisdiction: Canada Type of Claim: Criminal trial against climate activists and protesters for public disobedience of an injunction Summary of Result: Applications dismissed; accused convicted. Judgment final: Yes...

The Planet vs Bolsonaro

  End Case Name:       “The Planet vs Bolsonaro”  Jurisdiction:              International Criminal Court  Type of claim:           International Criminal Law  Summary of result:   N/A  Source of claims:       Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International...

Raincoast Conservation Foundation v. Canada

Case Name: Raincoast Conservation Foundation v. Canada (Attorney General) Jurisdiction: Canada Type of Claim: Judicial review of projects and permits Summary of Result: Twelve applicants wanted to apply for judicial review of the Governor in Council’s decision to...

Categories of Cases

Click below to explore some of the categories of cases that we have.

Cases against governments and legislatures to achieve higher greenhouse gas reduction

Under this category, we summarize lawsuits against federal or sub-state legislators and/or governments, in which the plaintiffs challenge insufficient efforts to tackle climate change, with the goal of enforcing stricter climate policies.

Cases against specific legislation or policies

Under this header, we summarize litigation targeting specific legislation or policies, such as sectoral policies, which the plaintiff deems to be insufficient and to provide insufficient protection from the threats of climate change. 

Lawsuits against private companies under tort law

A rather new trend in climate change litigation are lawsuits against private companies, typically the so-called “carbon majors” which are responsible for a large share of greenhouse gas emission. Such lawsuits are usually based on tort law.

Judicial review of projects and permits

Litigants are increasingly challenging governmental permits in court because the permit allegedly does not consider the effects of the project on climate change.

 

Anti-regulatory litigation

Under this category, we summarize lawsuits, mostly brought by large corporations, against legislation or policies which the litigants deem too strict. 

 

Climate Activists, Divestment, Misc.

Civil, criminal and administrative trials against climate activists and protesters for trespassing, obstructing public order or resisting police are also gaining ever more importance.

Legal Basis

Fundamental Rights

Claims based on fundamental rights may include those enshrined by:

• National Human Rights Documents
• International Human Rights

Other Constitutional Claims

Lawsuits can be based on constitutional claims other than fundamental rights, for example:

• Disputes between federal and sub-state entities

• Disputes between different branches of government

public trust doctrine

•  What is the Public Trust Doctrine?
•  Public Trust Doctrine in the USA
•  Public Trust Doctrine in Canada

tort law

Disputes based on tort law provisions

•Against states

•Against private companies

Cases by Jurisdiction

We have also organized our cases by the jurisdiction they fall under.

   Belgium

VZW Klimaatzaak v. Kingdom of Belgium, et al.

Case name:                      VZW Klimaatzaak v. Kingdom of Belgium, et al. Jurisdiction:                     Belgium Type of claim:                  Claim against federal legislature or government to enact stricter GHG reduction targets Summary of result:      ...

   Canada

References re Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

Jurisdiction:                     Canada Type of claim:                  Anti-regulatory legislation Summary of result:      GGPPA is constitutional, and this legislation falls under the federal government’s power over issues of national concern. Judgment...

Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC v. Mivasair

Case Name: Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC v. Mivasair Jurisdiction: Canada Type of Claim: Criminal trial against climate activists and protesters for public disobedience of an injunction Summary of Result: Applications dismissed; accused convicted. Judgment final: Yes...

   European

   Union

Sabo and Others v. Parliament and Council (EU Biomass Plaintiffs v. European Union)

Case name:                  Sabo and Others v. Parliament and Council                                         also known as: EU Biomass Plaintiffs v. European Union Jurisdiction:                 European Union Type of claim:             Cases against specific...

   Germany

German Klimaklage (Neubauer, et al. v. Germany)

Case name:                      German Klimaklage (Neubauer, et al. v. Germany) Jurisdiction:                     Germany Type of claim:                  Claim against federal legislature or government to enact stricter GHG reduction targets / Challenge of specific...

   Ireland

   Netherlands

   South Africa

   Switzerland

   United

   Kingdom

   United

   States of

   America

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Special Topics

Climate Refugees

Individuals have sought refugee status on the basis of climate change impacts.

Relevant Terms and Definitions

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