In recent years, claims based on disagreements between discourse and action on climate change known as’greenwashing’ have been increasing. These cases occur when a corporate marketing campaign exaggerates the advertised environmental performance or advantage and says it is misleading. In principle, charges of green washing can be leveled against companies operating in various sectors. However, these claims have been particularly confirmed for energy companies with respect to, for example, how advertising campaigns have described the scale of corporate carbon activities or, conversely, renewable and low-carbon activities.
Climate change litigation involving the government
Public law litigation is also a long and widespread strand of climate change litigation dealing with human rights. Constitutional and administrative law issues, including judicial review of plans and other government decisions. Outside the United States, about 80% of climate change cases have been filed against the government.
While these claims are often filed by businesses or individuals, activists and other groups are increasingly recognizing the extent to which public law instruments provide a means by which governments can produce results beyond the individual lawsuits filing claims. Successful examples have the power to influence government policies and actions.
The Urgenda Foundation brought a decisive case against the Dutch government in December 2019. Here, the claimant successfully obtained an order to force the government to reduce emissions. With this decision, the Dutch government has promised to reduce the capacity of the remaining coal-fired power plants by 75% and implement emissions reduction measures of 3 billion euros by 2020. Michelle Bachelete, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the case provided “[d] It is a clear path for relevant individuals in Europe and around the world to pursue climate lawsuits to protect human rights. “
Along the way, in February 2021, four environmental groups succeeded against France, as some commentators described as “the case of the century”. The claimant accused the French government of failing to fulfill its obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Climate Agreement and applicable French laws. The lawsuit was signed following a petition with 2.3 million people complaining about the French government’s attempts to mitigate global warming. The French government has been given more time to provide the courts with information about the action it is taking, and will have to pay 1 euro as a symbolic reward.
Similarly, the French municipality of the low-lying coastal city of Grande-Synthe is suing its own lawsuit against the French government over the appropriateness of action on climate change, especially the impact of climate change on cities. Sea level rise and exposure to flooding. The court has previously ordered the government to justify that it is taking appropriate steps to meet its 2030 climate targets, and the matter is due to be brought back to the court in March 2021.
These incidents and similar actions by countries, including Ireland and Australia, show a growing court’s willingness to find states that are legally responsible for non-climate activity. Future cases are also in progress. For example, a case against the Belgian government by a non-profit climate case will be heard in March 2021.
Climate change litigation in other sectors
The threat of climate change litigation has started to go beyond the public and energy sectors.
As climate change continues to threaten the financial success of society and the companies within it, there is a growing willingness of various stakeholder groups to use lawsuits to bring change in business outside the energy sector. Billing has emerged, particularly with regard to financial disclosures and investment decisions, as well as the potential of green cleaning measures where advertising claims are not consistent with climate change mitigation activities.
As the financial impact of climate risk becomes more evident and urgent, claims by shareholders for failing to incorporate climate risk into decision-making for banks, pension funds and investment funds and for not disclosing climate risk to beneficiaries have become more prevalent.
Several claims have been made in common law jurisdictions. In 2018, Australian Mark McVeigh sued the Pension Fund for not disclosing and addressing climate change risks affecting his investments. The Pension Fund agreed in a subsequent press release, acknowledging that climate change is “a significant, direct and current financial risk to the pension fund” and “it is important to actively identify and manage these issues”. This shows how shareholder litigation can change corporate behavior now and in the future.
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