The battle against climate change is increasingly moving into the courtroom, a study released yesterday (May 23) found. Individuals and groups around the world are suing their federal governments (but especially the United States) to take action on climate change.
The study, published by the United Nations Environment and the Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, surveyed litigation surrounding climate change. The United States sees three times the number of cases as the rest of the world combined. Since 2014, however, the number of countries with climate change cases has tripled.
These cases can range from a number of things. One, for instance, involves the 21 so-called climate kids in the United States, many of whom are children of color. They are suing the federal government for how its inaction on climate change is threatening their constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The lawsuit now names President Donald Trump, but it was originally filed against former President Barack Obama. There are also lawsuits, as the study points out, that set in motion the environmental safety nets we see today, like the 2007 Supreme Court ruling that determined greenhouse gases are a public threat.
“In the United States, climate change litigation has been absolutely essential, from the first lawsuit demanding the [EPA] regulate greenhouse gas emissions, to a recent lawsuit claiming a constitutional right to a stable climate system,” said Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, in a press release. “Similar litigation all over the world will continue to push governments and corporations to address the most pressing environmental challenge of our times.”
These lawsuits often follow emerging trends, such as human rights cases on climate refugees as a result of forced migration and displacement. “By 2050 climate change could, according to some estimates, displace up to 1 billion people and that number could soar still higher later in the century if global warming is not kept under 2 degrees Celsius this century (compared to pre-industrial levels),” according to the press release.
Many climate justice activists consider 1.5 degrees Celsius the target, as a number of island nations would be lost above that degree of warming. The rise in litigation could help them convince governments to stay as close as possible to this target.
Find the complete study here.