Corporates facing more legal challenges over climate claims

Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science has published its sixth annual climate litigation trends report.

It found that, since 2015, 230 climate-aligned lawsuits have been initiated against companies and trade associations. More than two-thirds of these lawsuits have been filed since 2020.

In 2023, 47 new climate and greenwashing cases were filed against corporates and governments. Of the 140 cases reviewed between 2016 and 2023, 77 have reached official decisions, with 54 judged in favour of the claimant.

The research notes a rise in “polluter pays” cases, whereby companies are held to account over climate harm arising from alleged contributions to emissions. More than 30 such cases are currently in development.

The authors conclude that “whether climate litigation is advancing or hindering climate action remains difficult to determine. Some types of cases, such as government framework cases, have already had lasting impacts on domestic climate governance.

“However, the long-term implications of other case types, such as climate-washing cases, remain unclear, despite the relatively high levels of ‘successful’ cases in the courtroom.”

While corporate cases are on the rise, the vast majority of climate cases have been filed against governments. In the UK, for example, the High Court ruled the Government’s climate action plan unlawful this year due to its overreliance on ‘risky technologies’ and lack of clarity on how it will meet its net-zero emissions targets by 2050.

The US still remains the jurisdiction with the largest number of cases. However, just 15% of filings in the US were aimed at companies, compared to a 40% average across the world. The UK was second in terms of cases, at 24.

Climate litigation continues to proliferate across new countries. Cases were filed for the first time in Panama and Portugal, meaning 55 countries have now recorded such cases.

The research was based on a dataset containing 2,666 climate litigation cases compiled by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.

The same data has also been studied by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Last year, UNEP tracked a steep uptick in cases being filed in low-income nations in the Global South over the past five years. Almost one-fifth of the cases filed in 2022 were in developing countries, showing a growing trend towards the most affected communities finding legal outlets to challenge big polluters.

Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change previously found that 26 legal challenges were made in court against corporates on greenwashing grounds in 2022 – up from 10 challenges in 2020.

The researchers also warned that, even if a business is not taken to court, consumers and campaign groups may look to take action through other channels, like complaints to consumer protection agencies and advertising watchdogs.

Comments (1)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    Business is about profit, and green policies, at least at first, cost money and time.

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