Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Climate Actions: when the law gets involved

  • Written by  Marco Magrini
  • Published in Climate
Prunéřov coal plant, Czech Republic Prunéřov coal plant, Czech Republic Vera Kailova
15 Jul
2017
Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This month, Marco Magrini looks at the legal challenges that lie ahead

Once upon a time there were tobacco and asbestos litigations. When products once marketed as safe turned out to be potentially lethal, scores of lawyers filed and won numerous class actions against the two industries, with a total payout exceeding the $500billion mark. Now, it is time for climate change-related lawsuits to follow.

According to the Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, more than 880 legal actions are pending in the courts of five continents, either to try constraining greenhouse gas emissions, or to press governments and corporations to adopt more aggressive climate policies. Take the legal challenge that Micronesia mounted in 2010 against the Czech Republic’s plans to expand its Prunéřov coal plant. Were the islanders bonkers? Not really. Carbon dioxide emitted in Europe adds to the atmosphere, which contributes to Arctic melting, which makes the Pacific Ocean rise. The challenge caused quite a stir, but the plant expanded anyway.

But what if this kind of litigation starts to spread the world over? Poor, guiltless, and low-lying countries may go up against rich, polluting ones. Climate-conscious US states (such as California or Washington) may challenge climate-denying Federal governments (such as the anti-science Trump administration that just scrapped the Paris Accord). More likely though, an upsurge in climate litigation would take aim at the usual targets – corporations.

According to the American climatologist Richard Heede, just five companies (ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Chevron and ConocoPhillips) have extracted enough fossil fuels to account for 12.5 per cent of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide ever emitted. Add national oil and gas companies, such as Saudi Aramco or Russia’s Gazprom, and it turns out that nearly two-thirds of the world’s historical greenhouse gas emissions originate from less than 100 firms.

Climate change is escalating. The Arctic had a nightmarishly hot winter. Summer is not boding well in Turbat, Pakistan, which hit a record 53.5°C in May. For decades, scientists have been warning that this planet may be increasingly unlivable by the end of this century. If the emissions trajectory isn’t shifted soon, future generations will likely despise their grand and great-grandfathers, wishing they could sue them.

This was published in the July 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

Adventure Canada

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    When the wind blows
    With 1,200 wind turbines due to be built in the UK this year, Mark Rowe explores the continuing controversy surrounding wind power and discusses the e...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

NGOs shine a light on the underreporting of wildlife crime…

Wildlife

Pioneering laser photography is being used by scientists on the…

Geophoto

Annual competition looks to celebrate island life in all its…

Oceans

Increasing interest in offshore aquaculture is dividing environmentalists

Energy

Well-meaning promises don’t always have positive outcomes. Marco Magrini finds…

Wildlife

The RSPB introduces a new hotline for reporting the unlawful…

Wildlife

With the death earlier this week of the world’s last…

Geophoto

The essence of street photography is its raw, unfiltered, unstaged…

Energy

For Marco Magrini, a tax on fossil fuels would be…

Wildlife

Half of animal species in world’s most biodiverse areas could…

Wildlife

Four-year project to reestablish safe breeding grounds for seabirds on…

Wildlife

First global atlas of soil bacteria reveals a small minority…

Polar

Scientists discover how shrubs are dominating the Arctic tundra

Wildlife

War and conservation have a complicated relationship, with two studies…

Climate

Why is Europe so cold right now? Marco Magrini suggests…

Wildlife

Threatened Californian owls are suffering from digesting rat poison administered…

Oceans

With the majority of the ocean still remaining undiscovered, a…

Oceans

Belize bans offshore oil extraction to protect the second longest…

Geophoto

With their horns still much-prized by poachers, will the revered…

Wildlife

Narwhals show a complex response to interaction with humans and…