Governments around the world must step up climate action “or face further legal action,” warned an open letter from campaign groups on Tuesday, as battles over measures to cut emissions and protect the environment increasingly go to court.
From legal efforts to get governments to do more to curb fossil fuel pollution to lawsuits over misleading green claims by companies, climate lawsuits are growing, experts say, and always will be more lawsuits filed against it by governments.
And that will continue unless they use the upcoming United Nations COP meeting in Egypt to significantly improve their climate action, according to an open letter signed by lawyers from more than 20 organizations around the world.
“Governments of the World: Delaying them Costs Lives. Decisive action is now required to protect people and the planet,” the letter said.
“If you continue to fail us, we will continue to turn to the courts for accountability.”
The groups said they have already launched more than 80 lawsuits around the world to “force” governments from the Netherlands to Brazil and warned the world is on “the precipice of the worst intergenerational human rights abuse in history”.
Research this year by the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics found that of the roughly 2,000 climate lawsuits filed since 1986, almost a quarter have started since early 2020.
About 80 of those cases have been filed against national or sub-national governments since 2005, the research says, with a record 30 new cases being filed in 2021.
Perhaps the most successful case of this kind was environmental group Urgenda’s landmark 2019 victory in Dutch courts, which ordered the government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent by the end of 2020. The goal was largely achieved.
“Climate protection is a legal obligation. Yet governments are not living up to their own laws and commitments,” said Sarah Mead, co-director of the Climate Litigation Network, part of the Urgenda Foundation, which signed the letter.
“We want to make sure countries understand that the law is on our side.”
– cases are increasing –
But legal decisions can go both ways.
In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that the government’s main environmental agency could not enact far-reaching greenhouse gas limits.
Activists say energy companies are increasingly turning to international arbitration to recoup investment as governments accelerate the move away from fossil fuels.
The Earth has so far warmed nearly 1.2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, triggering more intense weather extremes, including dangerous heat waves and flooding.
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, governments agreed on a warming cap well below 2°C and preferably a safer 1.5°C.
But the UN Environment Program has said that even taking into account updated global promises to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases, the world is currently on track for 2.8C warming.