Global Climate Litigation Report
The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) released the Global Climate Litigation Report, which aims to help stakeholders understand the latest developments in climate litigation.
UNEP believes that the world is facing three types of problems: climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, and litigation can promote the development of accountability and promote climate actions. Whether policymakers, environmental researchers, legal practitioners, or companies need to understand the current state of climate litigation.
UNEP has released climate litigation reports in 2017 and 2020. The third edition of the report released this time updates the status of previously unresolved cases and summarizes new issues arising from climate litigation in recent years.
Current State of Global Climate Litigation
Climate litigation provides social, individual, and other stakeholder accountability for addressing climate issues and addressing the inadequate response of governments and the private sector to the climate crisis. Plaintiffs can pass national or international laws requiring defendants to set more comprehensive climate goals. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) believes that climate litigation can affect the outcome of climate governance and become an important way to influence climate policy.
The number of climate litigation-related cases and the number of jurisdictions accepting cases has increased in recent years. In 2020, there were 1,550 climate litigations worldwide, spread across 39 jurisdictions. In 2022, there will be 2,180 climate litigations worldwide, spread across 65 jurisdictions.
At present, the cumulative number of climate litigation cases is 2.5 times that of five years ago, involving international courts, regional courts, quasi-judicial institutions and other adjudication bodies. Of all the cases, 89% were from developed countries, 5.2% from developing countries and 5.8% from international judicial institutions.
Features of Global Climate Litigation
Litigation against climate rights accounts for the highest proportion of all climate cases. Climate rights includes the legal rights of individuals to act on climate mitigation and climate adaptation, and is linked to international obligations under the Paris Agreement. In 2022, the United Nations passed a resolution recognizing a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a fundamental right.
In addition to lawsuits against climate rights, review and evaluation of specific resource extraction and resource dependent projects are also common litigations. These projects could have impacts on water, land, air quality and biodiversity, and could conflict with net-zero commitments countries have made.
In addition to the above-mentioned cases, some cases also touch on the topic of corporate responsibility, such as seeking corporate responsibility for climate harm, or accusing financial institutions of ignoring climate-related risks. Financial institutions have also begun to reduce climate risk. For example, the European Central Bank has incorporated climate risk into supervision, issued a report on climate disclosure of financial assets, and planned to reduce the carbon emission.
Information disclosure and greenwashing are also emerging trends in climate litigation. Increased public awareness of climate change has led to action against some companies that make false statements. Greenwashing has also been recognized by regulators, and these lawsuits play an essential role in protecting consumers and investors.
Trends in Global Climate Litigation
UNEP believes that the development of global climate litigation in the future will have the following trends:
- Climate litigation will develop into transnational litigation. The climate impact of one country on another country may carry out climate litigation through extraterritorial jurisdiction, involving multiple entities.
- Lawsuits brought by vulnerable groups will increase. The impact of climate change on the world is uneven, and the vulnerable groups who are more obviously affected may increase their proportion in the summary of climate lawsuits.
- Lawsuits against climate actions will increase. The development of climate action has also led to some lawsuits to delay or repeal climate action-related regulations, even including accusations against climate action activists.