Litigations against fossil fuel industry increasing around the world

Amid the multiple risks that climate change poses to industry, the fossil fuel industry has to now worry about a very different risk – of being dragged into litigation, especially since the Paris Agreement 2015.

Legal action poses a growing risk for the fossil fuel industry and other companies, and also to the governments with nearly 500 litigation cases filed around the world since 2020, more than double compared to those filed between 1986 and 2014, a new report by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science has showed.

As many as 475 cases were filed between January 1, 2020 and May 31, 2022, of which, more than two-thirds (321) were filed in the US alone and about 7 per cent (32) were in countries from the Global South, the report ‘Global trends in Climate Change Litigation: 2022 Snapshot’ by academics Joana Setzer and policy analyst Catherine Higham showed.

Incidentally, the cumulative number of climate change related litigation cases has more than doubled since 2015. Just over 800 cases were filed between 1986 and 2014 while over 1,200 cases have been filed in the last eight years, bringing the total in the databases to 2,002. Roughly one quarter of this were filed between 2020 and 2022.

The authors analysed records of 2,022 current or past cases of climate litigation since 1986. Cases have been filed in 44 countries and 15 international or regional courts and tribunals, including the courts of the European Union. Nearly a quarter has been filed since the start of 2020.

“The majority of strategic climate cases filed since the Paris Agreement seek to force government actors to give climate consideration more prominence in all types of decision-making, but particularly regarding the extraction of fossil fuels and the provision of fossil energy,” showed the data from the report released late night on Thursday (India time).

The authors found that there are a growing number of cases targeting the fossil fuel industry and other companies. The report states, “Cases against the carbon majors and other companies involved in the extraction of fossil fuels or the provision of fossil energy have continued to proliferate, now more significantly outside of the US.”

“Cases are also being filed against a more diverse range of corporate actors. In the calendar year 2021, while 16 of the 38 cases against corporate defendants were filed against fossil fuel companies, more than half were filed against defendants in other sectors, with food and agriculture, transport, plastics and finance all being targeted in multiple cases,” the report said.

The authors also identified a number of trends in climate litigation. For instance, they found that more legal challenges are targeting the production and consumption of oil, coal, and gas. “Climate litigation cases have played an important role in the movement towards the phase out of fossil fuels. Cases integrate arguments about governmental support for fossil fuel use – whether through policies, permits or subsidies – with arguments about human and constitutional rights.”

The authors note that such cases are increasing in numbers in countries of Global South “where litigants are mounting large-scale challenges to policies that would involve the development of untapped fossil fuel reserves”.

They also expect a “continued rise in litigation against governments and major emitters challenging commitments that over-rely on greenhouse gas removals or anegative emissions’ technologies, as well as cases that are explicitly concerned with the climate and biodiversity nexus”.




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