A landmark ruling on Wednesday by a Dutch court ordering Royal Dutch Shell to drastically cut its planned greenhouse gas emissions could impact the United States where most of the world’s climate cases are being litigated.
About 1,375 lawsuits seeking relief from climate change have been filed in U.S. courts, compared to about 425 in other various countries, according to the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.
The following is a summary of how litigation of the most significant cases is playing out across the United States:
About two dozen lawsuits have been filed by local governments and states who have accused major oil and gas companies of contributing to the effects of global warming by selling fossil fuels whose burning generates greenhouse gases.
States who have sued these companies include Rhode Island, Delaware and Connecticut.
The lawsuits, which are pending, target companies including BP Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp and Chevron Corp. The businesses deny the allegations and say that the suits do nothing to address the challenge of climate change.
The plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages to pay for sea walls and other infrastructure to guard against extreme weather and rising sea levels brought on by climate change.
In April, New York City lost a lawsuit in a federal appeals court. It sought to hold five major oil companies liable for global warming. The judge said the risk of “stepping on the toes of the political branches” barred the city’s suit among other reasons.
A handful of lawsuits, including by the District of Columbia and the state of Minnesota, allege that oil and gas companies have misled the public by knowingly downplaying the threat of climate change.
In one securities lawsuit investors said Exxon Mobil Corp and its executives failed to properly account for the impact of climate on its business and made public statements and financial disclosures that caused its share price to fall. Exxon has said the allegations have no merit.
A group of young Americans suing the federal government over actions they say contribute to climate change are in settlement talks with the Biden administration.
A handful of lawsuits by environmentalists accuse oil and gas companies of failing to adequately protect coastal fuel terminals in Rhode Island and in Massachusetts against the risks of flooding caused by sea level rise.
Cases Outside the Unites States
In France, local governments and activists including Fondation pour la Nature et l’Homme and Greenpeace France asked a court to order Total to recognise the climate risks generated by its activities and make its strategy consistent with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.
In Britain, Friends of the Earth filed a suit against the government’s decision to provide $1 billion in financing to support a liquefied natural gas development in Mozambique on the basis of Britain’s commitment to the Paris climate accord. The High Court granted Friends of the Earth permission to move forward with the case.
In Estonia, Fridays for Future comprised of young climate activists sought to nullify a permit issued to the state-owned energy group Eesti Energia for the construction of a new shale oil plan. Although the court allowed the complaint, it denied a preliminary injunction to halt construction of the plant.
In Canada, environmental groups including WWF Canada, took legal action against the government over oil and gas exploration offshore Newfoundland and Labrador, alleging such activities endangers the country’s climate commitments. A federal court in Ottawa denied the government’s motion to dismiss the case.
(Source: Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics)