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The climate litigation trend is gathering global momentum

New analysis reveals 80 cases have been filed against governments since 2005, seeking more ambitious action.

climate law

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The legal pressure on governments around the world to deliver more ambitious climate policies is continuing to intensify, according to a major new analysis from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

The report, "Challenging government responses to climate change through framework litigation," details how 56 framework litigation cases have been filed against national governments since 2005 with a further 24 cases launched against subnational governments.

Government framework cases differ from other climate cases as they focus on the ambition or implementation of whole-of-government responses to climate change. As such, government framework litigation can help determine "how fast low-carbon transition occurs in different jurisdictions, increasing the pace and scale of climate action."

The report also found that since 2017 the number of cases has been rising steadily, with a record number of 30 new cases submitted in 2021.

In addition, it confirmed that while climate litigation against governments tends to be concentrated in industrialised economies, a "small but significant minority" of cases are being filed in emerging economies. For example, there have now been eight cases filed in Latin America and seven cases in South Asia.

Businesses and investors should keep an eye on climate litigation against governments can prompt concrete policy responses.

The report authors, Catherine Higham, Joana Setzer and Emily Bradeen, said there was now ample evidence of how successful litigation can "significantly impact on government decision-making, requiring governments to develop and implement more ambitious policy responses to climate change."

The report follows a string of such cases in recent months, with court rulings in the Netherlands, France, and the U.K. all resulting in governments being ordered to strengthen their national decarbonization strategies to comply with overarching climate laws.

However, the authors also stress that government litigation is not a panacea for insufficient levels of climate action and warn that "potential climate litigants, including civil society organizations and funders, should think carefully about when and how to bring framework cases, particularly in light of the challenges of enforcing rulings."

"Framework cases must be accompanied by ongoing and extensive strategies for engagement if they are to play an ongoing role in achieving policy outcomes," the report advises.

But it also stresses that businesses and investors should keep an eye on climate litigation against governments can prompt concrete policy responses. "Litigation against governments may act as a spur to accelerate the transition in their respective countries, with all the knock-on impacts that may have," it said. "Such litigation may also plant the seeds for cases against corporate actors."

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