A Surge of Climate Lawsuits Targets Human Rights, Damage from Fossil Fuels

Cities, states and the fishing industry want courts to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for global warming. Others argue government inaction violates rights.

Rhode Island in 2018 became the first state to sue the fossil fuel industry over climate change. Credit: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images
Rhode Island in 2018 became the first state to sue the fossil fuel industry over climate change, citing the growing risks from sea level rise and extreme weather. Credit: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

The past year saw a surge in new lawsuits filed against fossil fuel companies, and major developments in cases pressing governments for action in the United States and abroad. And while the plaintiffs haven’t secured any substantial victories in U.S. courts, they may be scoring a different victory by drawing attention to the inaction of Congress and the Executive Branch, said Michael Gerrard, faculty director at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.

“Lawsuits, even if unsuccessful, can help shape public opinion,” he said. “Mr. Scopes lost the monkey trial, but it led to a lot more awareness about the issue of teaching evolution.”

…There are currently a couple of dozen significant lawsuits around the world that are asking courts to order actions by governments or the fossil fuel industry in response to climate change. Here’s a round-up of the various approaches. MORE

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