Activists Bring Climate Change Policy to the Courtroom

Posted: June 13, 2018

People and parties concerned with the current and tangible effects of climate change are finding places to point the finger of blame, including governments and companies who are making decisions with influence over practices that are suspected drivers of climate change.

When those parties and companies refuse to make voluntary changes to improve such climate change factors as pollution output and planet-harming resource gathering methods, activists looking to protect the planet have no other choice but to take them to court.

[The information provided in this article follows up our research from February and April, 2018]

Climate Change Litigation on a Growth Streak

A sharp increase in climate change lawsuits since 2005 comes alongside an increased public awareness of the possibilities of global climate change and interest in speculation as to the permanent or irreversible effects of our current energy policies. Similarly, groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, Inc. are holding companies more publicly accountable for their performance in complying with shifts in climate change policy.

Most major fuel companies examined in their latest Climate Accountability Scorecard achieved only marginal or poor scores on their ability to enact fair and effective climate policies and disclose climate risks of their practices. If those companies are unable to set standards that meet or exceed expectations set by such regulations as the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, climate change litigation may be the only weapon left for activists.

The increase in cases includes more than just growth in climate change lawsuits that are peripheral to the cases; The Economist found that by November 2017, there existed a record-high number of global climate change lawsuits in which climate was central to claims.

Climatology Is Still a Science of Probability

There are a handful of facts that climatologists have in their tool belts for arguing their side the climate change debate. For example, global average temperature has increased over the last 30 years between .1 and .3 degrees Fahrenheit per decade. But proving the correlation between temperature increase and the emission of greenhouse gases has been a major obstacle.


global land and ocean temperature index

Source: NASA Global Climate Data

Despite the steady heating, a small army of skeptics alongside companies who are trying to avoid changing their processes to comply with environmental safety regulations continue to argue that global climate change is not much more than speculation.

There is not much room to refute it, however. Establishing a link between a government or company’s emissions policies and greenhouse gas damage to the environment is, right now, a nearly insurmountable challenge for climate change activists. Because so many entities release greenhouse gases across the globe, it is nearly impossible to point to a single cause.

Resistance Won’t Stop Activists

Activists and attorneys are still making claims against governments and companies for violations of constitutional rights and coverups of emissions and pollution information. The Dutch court heard and ruled on a case against the Dutch government when the government’s proposed measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions nationwide fell short of what citizens believed to be effective. Courts ordered the government to refine their plan to cut emissions 25 percent by 2020 (measured against levels in 1990).

U.S. state attorneys are also suing ExxonMobil for failing to guard Massachusetts communities against pollution and provide pertinent information about the impact of their practices on the environment. The plaintiff claims that Exxon executives knew about climate risks associated with fossil fuels as far back as 1977, but purposefully took measures to cover up such findings.

In these cases and more, there are still avenues for activists to attempt to affect global climate change policy. The size and scope of the fossil fuel industry means that there will be plenty of interested parties looking to fight climate change policy improvements for a long time. Likely, the courts will be hearing an even greater number of worldwide lawsuits involving climate change in the years to come.