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Climate change is leading to a worldwide wave of lawsuits facing governments, companies and board directors says international law firm CMS.

The latest CMS international disputes digest shows climate change campaigners challenging states and companies for insufficient climate protection policies and over the non-implementation of international climate treaties.

The law firm points out that the first claims have been successful with the environmental campaign group the Urgenda Foundation winning a case that saw the Dutch courts ordering the government of the Netherlands to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% on the basis that the 17% target was insufficient.

In a similar case in the US – Juliana v the United States – 21 minors are suing the US government alleging that the lack of regulation of greenhouse gas emissions targets violate their fundamental rights and the public trust doctrine.

Public nuisance law

The digest notes that oil and gas firms are also increasingly under scrutiny with claimants arguing that the companies’ CO2 emissions contribute to global warming, leading to extreme weather events and resulting in damage to public infrastructure and state-owned real estate. This in turn has a detrimental effect on public health, public security and public peace all which is contested under public nuisance law.

The firm says that most cases also aim to establish a duty of care regarding the emissions produced, while others seek to establish strict product liability where the claimants argue that the sold product (fossil fuels) is defective due to CO2 emissions which cause global warming.

There have also been international cases involving citizens from different nations and indeed continents taking on big energy companies in Europe.

Peruvian farmer sues German energy giant

In Germany, a climate lawsuit was filed by a Peruvian farmer against the largest German energy company (LLuyia v RWE).

The farmer claims that RWE’s emissions have contributed so far to 0.47% of the worldwide anthropogenic greenhouse gases, leading to increased global warming and the melting of the glaciers in the Peruvian Andes. The farmer is seeking a percentage-based reimbursement of the expenses for the necessary measures he must take to protect his home against the overflow of the glacial lake.

CMS says that the current wave of climate litigation seems only to be the beginning.

The report says: “Well-funded NGOs are hiring lawyers and finance specialists to find legal arguments to fight climate change in court. Many upcoming lawsuits have already been announced in the media. Paris, London, the City of Victoria and the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu are currently reviewing their legal options to sue fossil fuel companies to shift the costs of climate protection.

“The government of the Philippines is investigating the impact of climate change on the human rights of the Philippine population and the role fossil fuel companies play in this.

“All things considered, the spectrum of lawsuits brought as part of climate litigation will see more actors and industries fall within its scope. In this changing climate, every company ought to consider where it stands and should look for strategies either to change or to adopt appropriate risk strategies.”

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