Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Procedural Question in Baltimore's Climate Accountability Case Against Fossil Fuel Companies
January 21, 2021
U.S. Supreme Court. Credit: Ken Chan, CC BY-SA 2.0
A lawsuit brought by the City of Baltimore against nearly two dozen fossil fuel companies seeking to hold them accountable for climate harms stemming from their products reached the Supreme Court bench this week. Although the Court was not hearing the case on its merits or substance, the Justices appeared somewhat skeptical of the procedural arguments offered by the fossil fuel defense.
In oral arguments Tuesday, Jan. 19 in the case BP et al. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, the Supreme Court focused discussion on the highly technical procedural question before it. This question - regarding the scope of appellate review of orders remanding (or sending back) cases from federal to state courts - has important implications for U.S. litigation targeting fossil fuel producers for alleged campaigns of climate denial and deception.
In a strategic move to evade accountability, lawyers representing fossil fuel companies are trying to push climate accountability lawsuits, like the one filed by Baltimore, from state to federal courts where the cases are more likely to be dismissed. At the companies’ request, the Supreme Court is reviewing a decision issued by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals last year in Baltimore’s case sending that lawsuit back to state court.
Supreme Court Showdown in Baltimore Climate Case: Why Trump's Influence Will Be on Display
January 18, 2021
President Trump announces Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee. Barrett, who has family ties to Big Oil, will preside over a climate lawsuit targeting Big Oil. Credit: The White House, public domain
The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments tomorrow, January 19, in a lawsuit brought by the City of Baltimore against nearly two dozen fossil fuel companies seeking to hold them accountable for alleged deception regarding the climate damages of their products. But the hearing will not focus on the actual allegations or merits of the case; indeed, the companies are hoping the nation’s highest federal court will help them shut the door on this case and related litigation brought by state and local governments facing costly impacts stemming from the climate crisis like worsening floods, catastrophic storms, and deadly heat.
Baltimore – a coastal city with 60 miles of waterfront land threatened by rising seas – sued major energy companies like BP, Chevron, Shell and ExxonMobil in 2018 claiming that these companies’ deceptive business conduct obscured the dangers of fossil fuels and resulted in the dangerous climate consequences unfolding today. Baltimore is demanding the fossil fuel companies help pay for costs of adapting to climate impacts. The city brought its lawsuit under legal claims of nuisance, trespass, failure to warn, and violation of Maryland’s Consumer Protection Act – all state law claims.
The companies, however, say the lawsuit must arise under federal law and have waged a procedural battle trying to challenge the venue, with the aim to have a court decide the case belongs in federal, not state, court because that is where the cases are more likely to be dismissed. It is a strategy they have employed in all other climate accountability cases brought against them. And it initially worked, with two federal district judges tossing out cases brought by New York City and by San Francisco and Oakland (though the NYC case was initially filed in federal court).
Despite these initial wins for the oil companies, a handful of other federal judges have come to the opposite conclusion, deciding these kinds of climate cases about corporate deception belong in state courts. The companies challenged these rulings, and four federal appeals courts (the First Circuit, the Fourth Circuit, the Ninth Circuit and the Tenth Circuit) all rejected the companies’ appeals last year. The Fourth Circuit made its ruling last March in Baltimore’s case, and that is the ruling that the Supreme Court is taking up on a final appeal. Recently the oil industry lawyers lodged petitions requesting that the Supreme Court reverse the rulings from the three other appeals courts as well, but those petitions are on hold pending the Court’s decision in the Baltimore case.
Trump EPA Sued Over "Do Nothing" Rule on Airplane Climate Pollution
January 16, 2021
Credit: Pablo Fernicola, CC BY 2.0
Environmental groups and a coalition of states led by Democratic attorneys general are suing the outgoing Trump administration over a new rule that they say fail to effectively regulate carbon pollution from airplanes. The petitioning groups and states are slamming the new regulations as “insufficient” and “do nothing” standards because the rule essentially require zero emissions reduction, do not apply to in-service aircraft and exempt new in-production airplanes until 2028.
“The aviation industry is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, yet the EPA has set standards here that are the equivalent of doing nothing,” California Attorney General Becerra said in a press release. California along with the California Air Resources Board (a state agency) is leading a coalition of 12 states plus the District of Columbia in challenging the airplane standards.
French "Case of the Century," Alleging France is Falling Short on Climate Action, Comes Before Administrative Court in Key Hearing
January 14, 2021
Celebrating the historic adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015. The home country of this landmark climate accord now faces a lawsuit asserting France is not doing enough to meet is climate goals. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
* UPDATE (1/16/21) – France is at fault and could indeed be held responsible for failing to take sufficient climate action, the public rapporteur (an independent advisor to the court) concluded. This finding is an important step towards climate justice in France. --- Four environmental organizations are facing off in court today, January 14, against the French state in a climate case alleging France is not taking adequate action on the climate crisis to protect the rights of French citizens.
Dubbed “Affaire du Siècle” or “Case of the Century,” the lawsuit is part of a growing wave of litigation worldwide challenging government policies and responses to the climate emergency. The French case comes before the Administrative Court of Paris, the city where the world convened in December 2015 to adopt the landmark international agreement recognizing the imperative to limit warming to well below 2 degrees C.
Five years later the nations of the world are largely not on a path to achieving this target. Only Morocco and Gambia are projected to meet the 1.5 degree C threshold under current policies, according to Climate Action Tracker, with France and the rest of the European Union deemed “insufficient,” meaning on track for up to 3 degrees C of warming in violation of the Paris Agreement.
It is in this context that the Case of the Century arises before the French judiciary. Led by an organization called Notre Affaire à Tous in partnership with Greenpeace France, Oxfam France and Fondation pour la Nature et l’Homme, the case has garnered support from over 2 million people and seeks to compel France to take all necessary measures to slash greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions consistent with the 1.5 C threshold.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued ExxonMobil on October 24, 2019 for allegedly misleading investors and consumers on climate risks of Exxon’s business and products – including systemic risks to the economy – in violation of Massachusetts’ consumer protection statute. The complaint includes allegations of failing to disclose climate-related risks to Exxon’s business to investors, deceptive marketing of certain Exxon products as environmentally friendly to consumers, and ongoing misleading or greenwashed advertising of the company to obscure Exxon’s harmful environmental and climate impact. It is just one of almost two dozen lawsuits targeting Exxon and similar petroleum giants for deceptive behavior on the climate consequences of their products to protect their business interests.
Most of these lawsuits are tied up in jurisdictional battles over whether they belong in state or federal courts. Exxon tried unsuccessfully to boot the Massachusetts lawsuit to federal court, and now it is aiming to get it tossed out of Massachusetts state court.
Baltimore and its Backers Brief U.S. Supreme Court, Push Back Against Oil Companies' Arguments
December 31, 2020
Baltimore skyline and puddle reflection. Credit: Craig Fildes via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The city of Baltimore and its supporters in litigation against the fossil fuel industry over climate damages are pushing back against industry arguments in oil companies’ appeal before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will hear the case on January 19, 2021.
In recent briefs submitted in December to the Court, Baltimore and its backers, or amici, argue that the oil companies like Chevron, BP, and ExxonMobil are exploiting a narrow statutory provision that allows for federal appeals courts to review federal court decisions – called remand orders – sending a case back to its state court origins. Baltimore and a coalition of state and local government groups specifically call out this exploitation as “gamesmanship” in their briefs.
Heathrow Airport Expansion Wins at UK Supreme Court
December 29, 2020
London's Heathrow Airport, September 2016. Credit: Mike McBey via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
The UK Supreme Court ruled this month in favor of Heathrow International Airport in a case challenging the airport’s third runway expansion project on climate change grounds. British environmental law charity Plan B – one of the plaintiffs in this case – called the ruling a “betrayal” to young people and the Global South who are most vulnerable to climate change impacts. Plan B director Tim Crosland broke the court’s embargo on the verdict by announcing it a day ahead of schedule as an act of civil disobedience.
“We are outraged with this judgment, which leaves youth and future generations without Constitutional protection. The Supreme Court chooses loyalty to Norwegian oil over our rights to a liveable future,” Therese Hugstmyr Woie, head of a youth-led environmental organization called Young Friends of the Earth Norway, said in a press release.
“I am disappointed and outraged by the fact that the Norwegian constitution doesn't provide me and my peers with judicial protection from politicians stealing our future,” Andreas Randøy, deputy head of Young Friends of the Earth Norway, told DeSmog in an emailed statement. “I wasn't old enough to vote out the politicians who opened up for new oil drilling in the arctic, further north than ever before. Yet I am a part of the generation who has to deal with its consequences. I really thought the Supreme Court would value that to a greater extent.”
2020 Was a Busy Year for Taking the Climate Fight to the Courts
December 22, 2020
U.S. Supreme Court. Credit: Ken Chan, CC BY-SA 2.0
This year -- with its converging crises, from the coronavirus pandemic to longstanding racial injustice to climate-related disasters -- was also a remarkably active time for climate litigation. All around the world, communities, organizations, and especially young people turned to the courts in 2020 in strategic attempts to hold governments and polluting companies accountable for exacerbating the unfolding climate emergency.
“This extremely challenging year has made clear that people and the planet must come first,” Kristin Casper, general counsel with Greenpeace International, told DeSmog in an emailed statement. “Many are taking action to make it a reality by bringing their demands for climate justice to the courts.”
In 'Dutch vs. Shell' Case, Fossil Fuel's Future is on Trial
December 18, 2020
Credit: Lee Jordan via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0
Five years after nearly 200 nations adopted the Paris climate agreement, a coalition of seven Dutch environmental group and more than 17,000 co-plaintiffs are facing off in civil court at The Hague against Royal Dutch Shell for continuing to do business in ways that undermine the pact’s goal to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F).
If they win, the plaintiffs say, the decision will establish that Shell is responsible under both the Paris pact and human rights law to rapidly reorient its business away from oil and gas production.
The plaintiffs in the case, Milieudefensie v. Royal Dutch Shell, specifically claim that Shell — the largest oil corporation in Europe and among the top five largest in the world — has breached the “duty of care,” a principle enshrined in Dutch law, and violated Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protect the rights to life and to private and family life. They are seeking a court order compelling Shell to reduce its carbon emissions 45% by 2030 and completely by 2050, in alignment with the Paris accord.
“Success is Shell being forced by the court to accept binding CO2 targets reflecting the Paris climate agreement,” said Donald Pols, director of Milieudefensie/Friends of the Earth Netherlands, the environmental organization leading the case.
Today’s action involves serving a formal letter upon British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak as the first step in the litigation process, with a court filing to come likely in early 2021.
The legal action asserts that the UK-- the historic birthplace of the fossil-fueled Industrial Revolution -- is continuing to finance the climate crisis and has failed to develop an emergency plan to comprehensively and aggressively tackle the crisis. The case alleges violations of human rights protected under British and international law, specifically rights to life and to private and family life. And the case alleges the government has not met its legal obligations to tackle climate change under the UK Climate Change Act of 2008 and the Paris Agreement.
Exxon - Facing Lawsuit From Connecticut Over Alleged 'Decades of Deception' - Misleads Court About The Lawsuit, State Tells Court
December 3, 2020
Exxon gas station in Durham, CT. Credit: Mike Mozart, CC BY 2.0
Connecticut told a federal court in a Dec. 2 filing that its lawsuit accusing oil giant ExxonMobil of deceptive behavior regarding the fossil fuel business and consequences on the climate should be sent back to state court. The state also said Exxon has mischaracterized the lawsuit, arguing the case presents clear claims of corporate deception and is not at all about regulating climate pollution or curbing petroleum production.
“The State’s allegations concern only Defendant’s campaign of deception,” Connecticut wrote in a motion to remand – or send back to state court – filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. “Nowhere does the State seek to hold the Defendant liable for greenhouse gas emissions or causing climate change.”
Here's How Big Oil Wants the Supreme Court to Help Delay and Derail Climate Lawsuits
December 2, 2020
Facade and fountain of the United States Supreme Court Building. Credit: Sunira Moses CC BY-SA 3.0
On January 19, 2021 — just one day before President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office — the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a climate change accountability lawsuit brought by Baltimore, Maryland, against almost two dozen fossil fuel corporations.
Like over a dozen other climate lawsuits, Baltimore’s case seeks to hold major oil and gas companies including Chevron and ExxonMobil accountable for fueling the climate crisis through the extraction and sale of their products and for spreading climate disinformation and downplaying the dangers of fossil fuels to the public and shareholders in order to boost corporate profits.
And similar to other cases brought at the municipal or state level, Baltimore’s lawsuit demands that oil majors help pay for things such as seawalls to better protect the city from the impacts of climate change like more dramatic flooding. Proving the alleged corporate deception around the reality and severity of climate change is at the heart of the lawsuits lodged by communities like Baltimore which are facing enormous costs and damages from the unfolding climate crisis. Seeking help from the fossil fuel companies to pay for these sorts of climate adaptation efforts, however, can likely only be done by keeping the case at the local level rather than trying it in higher federal courts.
This is why fossil fuel companies and their allies are currently waging a procedural battle to punt these cases from state to federal court. The upcoming hearing in the Supreme Court — which has dismissed climate lawsuits in the past — could determine whether or not the Baltimore lawsuit can remain at the state level. A ruling in favor of the fossil fuel industry will at the very least delay Baltimore’s case and similar climate cases from advancing in state court, and could derail these cases altogether if the Supreme Court determines they must be brought in federal, rather than state, courts.
'Major Hurdle' Cleared As Youth Activists Advance Historic Climate Case
November 30, 2020
Four of the six Portuguese youths suing 33 European countries over climate change. From left to right: Martim, Catarina, Cláudia, and Mariana, all from the Leiria region of Portugal. Credit: Photo courtesy of Global Legal Action Network/Youth 4 Climate Justice
An unprecedented climate lawsuit brought by six Portuguese youths is to be fast-tracked at Europe’s highest court, it was announced today.
The European Court of Human Rights said the case, which accuses 33 European nations of violating the applicants’ right to life by disregarding the climate emergency, would be granted priority status due to the “importance and urgency of the issues raised.”
Procedural Updates in U.S. Climate Lawsuits Against Big Oil
November 29, 2020
Credit: Tori Rector, CC BY-SA 2.0
Fossil fuel corporations facing a slew of climate accountability lawsuits from municipalities and states are fighting vigorously to have the cases litigated in federal rather than state courts. Here is where the lawsuits stand* heading into December 2020:
* Procedural updates based on info from the Center for Climate Integrity. CCI case status chart last updated Nov. 19, 2020.
Baltimore v. BP et al. Case brought by the City of Baltimore against nearly two-dozen fossil fuel producers is currently being briefed in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court granted the fossil fuel defendants’ petition on Oct. 2 to review a wonky procedural question – specifically whether appellate courts can review an entire order sending (or remanding) a case back to state court, or whether that review is limited to two narrow exceptions. The fossil fuel companies (brief filed Nov. 16) argue that the appellate review of remand orders should not be limited, and further urge the Supreme Court to determine the case belongs in federal court. So far two federal courts – a district court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals – rejected the companies’ federal jurisdiction arguments and sent (remanded) the case to Maryland state court where it was originally filed. The case had been proceeding in state court but is currently paused pending the Supreme Court resolution and pending another Supreme Court case (Ford Motor case) involving personal jurisdiction disputes. Baltimore will next file its brief in the Supreme Court. The Court will hear the case on January 19, 2021.
Boulder County et al. v. Suncor and Exxon Case currently paused (stayed) in Colorado state court pending the outcome of the Ford Motor case in the Supreme Court on personal jurisdiction issues. The city and county of Boulder and the county of San Miguel in Colorado sued ExxonMobil and Suncor entities over climate damages in April 2018 in Colorado state court. A battle over federal vs. state court jurisdiction followed, and both a federal district judge and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the case belongs in state court. A state court judge heard arguments on the companies’ motion to dismiss on June 1, 2020.
'Historic' Court Ruling Will Force France To Justify Its Climate Targets
November 20, 2020
Paris marches for climate justice as the United Nations climate summit, COP21, concludes with the historic Paris Agreement, December 12, 2015. Credit: John Englart, CC BY-SA 2.0
A French court this week issued what climate campaigners are calling a “historic decision” in the fight to hold national governments accountable for insufficient action to address the climate crisis.
The decision finds that France in recent years has exceeded its “carbon budgets” — the upper limit of allowable carbon emissions to help keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
The French government must now justify within the next three months how its refusal to take more stringent measures to curb emissions in line with the Paris Agreement puts the nation on track to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target.
This is the first court ruling of its kind in France -- and it could influence other ongoing climate lawsuits in the country. The decision is the latest in a string of successful legal challenges to European governments' inadequate policies to tackle the climate crisis, including in Irelandand most famously in theNetherlands, which was the first time a court anywhere in the world ruled that a national government has a legal duty to prevent dangerous climate change.
Fossil Fuel Lawyers Ignore Baltimore's Claims of Deception, Say Supreme Court Should Rule City's Climate Case Belongs in Federal Court
November 18, 2020
Baltimore's Inner Harbor, May 2017. Credit: Jeff Slinker, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Lawyers representing BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and other big oil and gas companies are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to find that a climate liability lawsuit brought against them by the city of Baltimore raises numerous federal issues and inherently belongs in federal courts, where the industry sees a clear path to getting this and similar climate cases thrown out. The fossil fuel lawyers made this federal jurisdiction argument in a brief filed Nov. 16 in the Supreme Court, though the argument distorts what the legal claims are actually about and reaches beyond the very specific question the Supreme Court is reviewing in this case.
Baltimore and other cities and states (as well as one commercial fishing association) around the country are suing major fossil fuel producers for allegedly deceiving the public on the climate consequences of their products for purposes of delaying climate policies and preserving profits. The industry’s successful deception and disinformation campaigns, the lawsuits contend, have turned climate change from a manageable problem to a full-scale crisis unfolding in the form of extreme flooding and rising seas, searing heat, more severe storms and other impacts, and communities like Baltimore are demanding the industry help pay for these costly impacts.
Court Allows Aussie Bushfire Survivors To Present Expert Evidence from Climate Scientist in Climate Case Against New South Wales' Environment Agency
November 15, 2020
Smoke billows out from raging bushfires in Australia during the unprecedented 2019-20 fire season. Credit: Michelle Moore, Bureau of Land Management - National Interagency Fire Center, public domain
An Australian court earlier this month issued an order allowing a group called Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action to present expert evidence on climate science in a case against the New South Wales Environmental Protection Authority over the agency’s lack of climate policy. This is the first time an Australian court has decided on whether to permit climate change evidence to be heard in a lawsuit alleging failure by a government agency to perform its statutory duty, according to the nonprofit law firm Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), which is representing the bushfire survivors in this case.
“We are pleased that our clients are now able to present robust scientific evidence about climate change and its impact on people and the environment, and we welcome these orders by the court,” EDO’s Director of Legal Strategy Elaine Johnson said in a press release.
Judge Rules That Young People Suing Ontario Over Climate Change Should Get a Trial
November 13, 2020
Youth plaintiffs and their counsel taking the Ontario government to court over its climate policy. Credit: Ecojustice, via Facebook
A court in Ontario, Canada has ruled that a constitutional climate lawsuit brought by seven young people against the provincial government can proceed to trial. That lawsuit – Mathur et al. v. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Ontario – challenges the scaled back 2030 climate target set by the Ontario government under conservative Premier Doug Ford. The youth plaintiffs contend that the weaker climate policy - which would contribute to more dangerous climate change - is unlawful under the Canadian constitution that protects fundamental rights.
The decision issued November 12 by Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice rejects the government’s motion to dismiss the case. According to a press release from the nonprofit environmental law group Ecojustice (which supports the plaintiffs in this case), the decision marks the first time “a Canadian court has ruled that fundamental rights protected under the [Canadian Charter on Rights and Freedoms] can be threatened by climate change and citizens have the ability to challenge a Canadian government’s action on the climate crisis under the highest law in the land.”
The Supreme Court of Norway is set to rule in a high-profile climate change lawsuit challenging the Norwegian government’s licensing of new offshore oil drilling in the fragile and rapidly warming Arctic region. The forthcoming decision from Norway’s highest court could, for the first time anywhere in the world, invalidate offshore petroleum production on climate change grounds.
Hearings before the country's Supreme Court in the case, dubbed The People v. Arctic Oil, began on November 4 and concluded on November 12; a decision is expected within the next few months.
“The fate of the climate, and millions of people across the world affected by extreme weather events, hangs in the balance of every barrel of oil we either extract, or leave in the ground. The Norwegian state has an obligation to both the Paris Agreement and the Norwegian Constitution to minimise the health and safety risks from the climate crisis on future generations,” Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway, one of the organizations challenging the oil licenses, said in a statement. “The Supreme Court now has the unique opportunity to decide over the future of new oil drilling in the middle of a climate crisis.”
Brazil Sued Over Amazon Deforestation - Constitutional Climate Case Brought Before Brazil's Supreme Court
November 12, 2020
Illegal logging on Pirititi indigenous Amazon lands, May 8, 2018. Credit: quapan (via Flickr), CC BY 2.0
The Brazilian federal government under President Jair Bolsonaro is facing a new lawsuit – filed November 11 in Brazil’s Supreme Court – challenging the country’s rapid deforestation of the Amazon that is contributing to climate change and degrading the environment to the detriment of the Brazilian people. The legal challenge is grounded in a section of Brazil’s constitution (Article 225) that protects the right to an “ecologically balanced environment” for present and future generations.
A coalition of 10 nongovernmental organizations, including Greenpeace Brazil and other groups, is behind the constitutional lawsuit, which is formally presented by seven political parties as plaintiffs due to procedural requirements. The NGOs are participating as friends of the court.
“The coalition is simply demanding that the Brazilian government complies with the Constitution, which protects present and future generations as well as the Amazon,” Fabiana Alves, Climate and Justice Coordinator at Greenpeace Brazil, said in a press release. “Even under a totally unambitious contribution to the international Paris Agreement, Brazil is now lacking public policy, budget and staffing to guarantee the application of our national laws. We need to stop this free fall.”
While the outcome of the United States presidential election this week could very well be a make it or break it moment for global efforts to address the climate emergency, this week will see another contest with critical climate stakes in Norway as the Norwegian Supreme Court takes up a climate lawsuit challenging the government’s licensing of Arctic oil drilling. That case, dubbed The People vs. Arctic Oil, is slated for a 7-day trial starting Wednesday, November 4 and concluding on Nov. 12 with all 19 judges of Norway’s Supreme Court presiding. A ruling in favor of the plaintiffs – environmental organizations Greenpeace Norway and Nature and Youth – would for the first time invalidate new offshore oil drilling on climate change grounds and may set an important precedent for climate cases around the world.
Australian Pension Fund Acknowledges Climate Risk, Commits to Net Zero in Landmark Settlement of Climate Lawsuit
November 2, 2o2o
School Strike 4 Climate in Brisbane, Australia, Sept. 20, 2019. Credit: Stephen Hass, CC BY 2.0
A first-of-its-kind climate lawsuit in Australia over a retirement fund’s obligations to disclose climate-related risks to fund beneficiaries has concluded in a settlement that could send the widespread signal to financial markets and asset managers that the climate crisis is a material financial risk that must be taken seriously.
In a statement issued November 2 regarding the settlement in the case McVeigh v. Retail Employees Superannuation Trust, the Australian superannuation fund REST acknowledged “that climate change could lead to catastrophic economic and social consequences” and that it “is a material, direct and current financial risk.” The fund agreed to commit to reaching a net zero carbon footprint by 2050, in addition to other climate-related commitments.
Mark McVeigh, a 25-year-old from Brisbane who first filed the landmark case against his pension fund in 2018, said the outcome represents a “groundbreaking recognition” of climate risks to the economy and society and that it gives “reassurance” to the fund’s nearly 2 million members that their retirement savings will be responsibly managed in the face of the climate crisis.
Federal Judge: Rhode Island's Climate Fraud Lawsuit Against Big Oil Belongs in State Court
October 31, 2020
Rhode Island coast, at Point Judith near Narragansett. Credit: Jimmy Emerson, DVM, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A federal judge has ruled that Rhode Island’s climate liability case against 21 oil and gas corporations belongs in state court, where the state originally filed it in 2018.
The Oct. 29 decision by the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals aligns with three other federal appeals court decisions this year in similar climate lawsuits against Big Oil.
Rhode Island is one of two dozen communities around the country suing the fossil fuel industry for its decades of deliberately misleading the public about the risks associated with burning coal, oil, and gas. Like the others, Rhode Island is seeking to hold the industry accountable for the billions of dollars in costs it now faces to contend with climate change impacts including higher temperatures, more extreme rainfall and flooding, and coastal erosion caused by rising seas. According to a 2017 state report, Narragansett Bay's warming temperatures have already begun to cause a shift from cold-water to warm-water marine species, driving down populations of key fisheries like lobster and winter flounder.
La Rose v. Her Majesty the Queen plaintiffs Ira, Albert, and Cecilia. Credit: Robin Loznak, courtesy of Our Children's Trust. Used w/ permission.
The Federal Court of Canada has decided to dismiss a climate lawsuit based on constitutional rights and brought by 15 young Canadians against the federal government. The decision, issued October 27, effectively denies the youths the chance to present their case and the supporting climate science at trial.
“I am incredibly disheartened by the court’s ruling,” Lauren, a 16-year-old plaintiff from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, said in a press release. “As a young Canadian whose rights are being violated, having the court grant the government’s motion to strike is very upsetting, and I feel that my rights to a safe and healthy future are not being taken seriously by those in power.”
After unsuccessful attempts to sue the Swiss government through Switzerland’s court system challenging the government’s insufficient climate policies, a group of Swiss senior women are taking their case to the European Court of Human Rights. This will be the second climate change case filed before the international human rights court in recent months, with a group of Portuguese youth lodging a complaint in September against 33 European countries including Switzerland.
The Swiss seniors say their fundamental rights and their health are at risk from the worsening climate crisis and associated impacts, particularly extreme heat. They formed a group called Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland and in 2016 launched a legal challenge to their government’s climate policies, which they say don’t go far enough to slash greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate breakdown.
Swiss courts have dismissed the women’s case, however, prompting the group to turn to the European Court of Human Rights. The Swiss senior women announced their submission to this court, located in Strasbourg, France, on October 27. An official legal filing will take place in the coming weeks.
Oregon Supreme Court Rules Against Youth in Climate Case, But Chief Justice Pens Dissent Saying Judicial Branch "Has a Role to Play" in Addressing Climate Crisis
October 23, 2020
Klamath Wild and Scenic River, Oregon. The state's Supreme Court ruled that navigable waters like this are public trust resources. Credit: Bureau of Land Management, CC BY 2.0
In a divided ruling issued on October 22, the Oregon Supreme Court decided the state of Oregon does not have a duty to protect its vital natural resources such as the atmosphere and water under a legal theory called the public trust doctrine in the face of the climate crisis. The long-awaited decision comes in a lawsuit, originally filed in 2011, by Oregon teens Olivia Chernaik and Kelsey Juliana against the state government over climate change and environmental degradation.
This case is one of a handful of pending legal challenges at the state level brought by young people against their government seeking to compel more aggressive action on climate change that is guided by climate science. These climate cases have faced an uphill battle and have mostly been dismissed.
While the Supreme Court majority ruled against the youth plaintiffs in the Oregon case Cherniak v. Brown, Chief Justice Chief Justice Martha Walters wrote a dissenting opinion arguing that the court should not shirk its responsibility to determine violations of law even if a case involves a complex issue like climate change.
“The complexity of an issue may make a judicial decision more difficult, but it does not permit this court to abdicate its role,” Justice Walters wrote.
Amy Coney Barrett's Remarks on Climate Change Raise Alarm That a Climate Denier Is About to Join the Supreme Court
October 15, 2020
Judge Amy Coney Barrett delivers remarks after President Donald Trump announced her as his nominee for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on September 26, 2020. Credit: White House, public domain
During her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, October 13, Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett trotted out a tired and dismissive refrain from climate deniers, saying, “I’m certainly not a scientist” when Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) asked specifically about her views on climate change.
After Barrett said she doesn’t have “firm views” on the subject, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) pressed her on those views during the hearing Wednesday, where she continued to dodge the question. “I don’t think that my views on global warming or climate change are relevant to the job I would do as a judge,” Barrett said, adding, “I haven’t studied scientific data. I’m not really in a position to offer any informed opinion on what I think causes global warming.”
Her use of the “not a scientist” line, and her subsequent doubling down on the idea, drew swift criticism from activists, journalists, politicians, and other professionals engaged with the issue of climate change.
Hawaii's Maui County Takes Big Oil to Court Over Climate Crisis
October 14, 2020
Papohaku Beach in Molokai, Hawaii (Maui County), April 2006. Credit: Patrick McNally, CC BY 2.0
Hawaii’s Maui County filed a liability claim against 20 fossil fuel firms on Monday, joining 23 other U.S. communities suing to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for their role in delaying action on climate change. Maui is the third community in Hawaii to file such a suit.
The county alleges that major petroleum corporations including BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil executed a decades-long campaign to downplay the climate risks of their products in order to delay regulation and maximize profits.
These climate lawsuits seek to hold companies like Exxon accountable for spending decades misleading the public on climate risks. Those dangers, projected long ago, have literally hit home in recent months with scorching heat, “record breaking” storms battering the Gulf Coast, and unprecedented and devastating wildfires burning millions of acres in the western U.S.
Court to Decide if Kids Suing Canada Over Climate Get a Trial
October 6, 2020
Canada's actions worsening climate change - like allowing tar sands expansion - are at the core of a constitutional climate lawsuit brought by youths against the federal government. Photo from protest on Parliament Hill, Sept. 26, 2011. Credit: Peter Blanchard, CC BY 2.0
Should young people suing their national government over climate change get the chance to tell their stories, and present climate science, at a courtroom trial? That is the question pending before the Federal Court of Canada, which heard arguments last week in a constitutional climate lawsuit brought by 15 youths against the Canadian federal government. The government wants the case tossed, and following last week’s hearing (held Sept. 30 and Oct. 1) the court will now decide if the case gets dismissed, or if it is allowed to proceed to trial.
Supreme Court Will Hear Fossil Fuel's Appeal of Baltimore's Climate Lawsuit
October 2, 2020
U.S. Supreme Court. Credit: dog97209, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to intervene in a climate liability lawsuit brought against 26 fossil fuel companies by Baltimore, which seeks to hold them responsible for the substantial costs of grappling with the heavy impacts of climate change.
In their petition, BP, Chevron, and other fossil fuel companies have asked the court to examine a narrow legal question in the case, which Baltimore first filed in 2018. Since then, the petroleum firms have embroiled the case in a fight over whether it should be heard in state or federal court.
Court Set to Hear Arguments in Youth Climate Case Against Canadian Federal Government
September 30, 2020
Youth plaintiffs in Vancouver, BC in October 2019. Credit: Robin Loznak & Our Children's Trust via David Suzuki Foundation Facebook page
A landmark constitutional climate lawsuit brought by 15 young Canadians against Canada’s federal government will come before a court this week for two days of hearings to determine if the case will advance to trial. Should the case go to trial, it would be one of the first courtroom trials anywhere in the world in litigation brought by youth against their national government over the climate crisis.
Rhode Island Judge Refuses to Toss Climate Adaptation Lawsuit Against Shell
September 28, 2020
Providence River and skyline, Rhode Island. Credit: Craig Fildes via Flickr (via U.S. Dept. of State), CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A federal district judge in Rhode Island has ruled to allow a climate adaptation lawsuit brought by a New England environmental law organization against oil major Shell to advance towards discovery and trial. According to Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), the organization suing Shell over climate risks to its oil storage facility located in Providence, R.I., the case proceeding to discovery marks the first time a private fossil fuel entity will need to fully answer for its knowledge of climate change and the risks it presents.
How Congress Can Support Lawsuits Demanding Climate Accountability
September 25, 2020
Kelsey Juliana (age 24) and Levi Draheim (age 13), the oldest and youngest of the Juliana 21 youth plaintiffs, pass by the U.S. Capitol building in September 2019. Credit: Robin Loznak and Our Children's Trust, used with permission
On Wednesday, September 23, several members of Congress introduced a resolution in both houses that supports the principles and demands of the 21 youth suing the U.S. government in the landmark constitutional climate case Juliana v. United States. Titled the “Children’s Fundamental Rights and Climate Recovery Resolution,” this Congressional resolution, though nonbinding, demonstrates one way that Congress can play a key role in supporting the growing calls to hold the federal government and fossil fuel companies accountable for the devastating damages of the climate crisis.
In January, a divided federal appeals court dismissed the Juliana youth lawsuit, but the youths have asked the full court to review that dismissal and a decision is still pending.
Young people like the Juliana plaintiffs and communities across the country have turned to the courts in filing lawsuits demanding climate accountability. More than 20 municipalities and states are suing major oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil over the fossil fuel industry’s campaigns to discredit climate science, deceive the public on climate risks, and delay policy action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The young people suing the U.S. government in Juliana argued that the executive branch has promoted a fossil fuel energy system that contributes to dangerous climate change, putting their constitutional rights like rights to life and liberty at risk.
In both types of cases, Congress could signal its support for the youth and communities going to court over the climate crisis. That idea is essentially what the new concurrent resolution on children’s fundamental rights is about, a symbolic gesture backing the demands of the Juliana youth plaintiffs.
Bełchatów power plant and coal mine, April 18, 2020. Credit: Roman Ranniew, CC BY 2.0
A judge in Poland has ruled that operators of the Bełchatów coal plant – Europe’s single biggest emitter of carbon pollution – must negotiate a settlement with environmental lawyers that brought a lawsuit last year over the coal plant’s destructive environmental and climate impacts.
The ruling, which followed a hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 22 in the District Court of ŁódĽ, could put the Polish coal facility on a path towards closure. Lawyers for the environmental law charity ClientEarth argued that closing the Bełchatów plant’s coal operations is necessary in the face of the climate crisis. The power plant burns 45 million tons of coal every year, equivalent to a ton every second, and has emitted over a billion tons of CO2 over its lifetime. The plant’s annual emissions are roughly equal to the total annual emissions of New Zealand.
Greenpeace Spain, Ecologistas en Acción and Oxfam Intermón filed their case before Spain’s Supreme Court on September 15 contending that Spain has failed to take adequate action on climate in violation of the nation’s international obligations and legal duties. It is the first domestic climate lawsuit initiated against the Spanish government.
“To avoid devastating climate change there is only one way: to drastically and rapidly reduce CO2 emissions and accelerate the ecological transition, which requires courageous political and judicial decisions,” Mario Rodríguez, director of Greenpeace Spain, said in a press release.
That case, Aji P. et al. v. State of Washington, argues that the government is violating the youths’ fundamental rights under the state constitution through policies that perpetuate fossil fuels and fail to reduce carbon emissions rapidly enough to avoid catastrophic climate consequences. At a time when the state is literally on fire and climate calamity impossible to ignore, the court appeared skeptical of the state’s argument that the political branches of government are doing enough to address the crisis and that climate change doesn’t undermine fundamental rights protected by the constitution.
Connecticut Becomes the Fifth State to Sue Big Oil Over Climate Change
September 15, 2020
Hurricane Irene damage in Connecticut, August 28, 2011. Credit: Office of Governor Dan Malloy/CT National Guard, CC BY 2.0
On Monday, September 14, Connecticut announced it had filed a lawsuit in state court against oil major ExxonMobil for alleged “decades of deceit” on the risks of climate change that stem from burning fossil fuels.
“ExxonMobil sold oil and gas, but it also sold lies about climate science,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a press release. “ExxonMobil knew that continuing to burn fossil fuels would have a significant impact on the environment, public health and our economy. Yet it chose to deceive the public. No more.”
At a time when much of the West Coast is engulfed in flames, fossil fuel companies are facing a torrent of climate accountability lawsuits from cities and states with four new cases filed this month alone.
Australian Teens Bring Class Action Climate Lawsuit to Stop Coal Mine Expansion
September 12, 2020
School Strike for Climate Melbourne, Australia, November 30, 2018. Credit: julian meehan, CC BY 2.0
This week, a group of eight Australian teens has brought a groundbreaking new climate change lawsuit against Australia’s Federal Minister for the Environment in an effort to stop a proposed coal mine expansion in the state of New South Wales, roughly 267 miles north of Sydney.
Filing a class action lawsuit in federal court, these students are representing not just themselves but young people under age 18 across Australia and around the world, as the generation that is particularly imperiled from the climate crisis and the continued fossil fuel expansion driving climate breakdown.
“The climate crisis will disproportionately impact young people as many of us will live into the second half of this century, far beyond many projections of climate catastrophe,” said Laura Kirwan, a 16-year-old plaintiff from Sydney who is active in Australia’s School Strike 4 Climate.
The lawsuit is the latest in several climate cases brought by young Australians in recent months.
A climate change lawsuit brought by the state of Rhode Island against major fossil fuel producers like Chevron and Shell had a court hearing on Friday, September 11 where lawyers for each side presented diverging characterizations of the case, and the court appeared skeptical of the fossil fuel industry’s interpretation of the state’s claims.
Delaware Just Sued 30 Fossil Fuel Companies and the American Petroleum Institute over Climate 'Denial and Disinformation'
September 10, 2020
Flood damage from Hurricane Irene at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service, public domain
Delaware, the home state of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, announced on Thursday, September 10 that it is taking dozens of major oil and gas companies including BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil to court over the rising costs of climate impacts such as sea level rise and coastal flooding.
Like other U.S. states and municipalities suing the fossil fuel industry, Delaware says that the industry knew half a century ago about the likely climate impacts resulting from the use of its products, but instead of warning the public or changing their business model, the fossil fuel companies engaged in campaigns to attack climate science and downplay the risks of burning coal, oil, and gas in order to stave off policy responses.
“Delawareans are already paying for the malfeasance of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies,” Attorney General Kathy Jennings said in a press release. “Exxon, Chevron, and other mega-corporations knew exactly what kind of sacrifices the world would make to support their profits, and they deceived the public for decades. Now we are staring down a crisis at our shores, and taxpayers are once again footing the bill for damage to our roads, our beaches, our environment, and our economy. We are seeking accountability from some of the world’s most powerful businesses to pay for the mess they’ve made.”
The lawsuit, filed September 10 in Delaware Superior Court, a state court, seeks monetary damages to help pay for costs the state is already incurring and that are expected to mount as climate impacts worsen.
Climate Litigation Reaches American South with Charleston, SC Filing Latest Suit
September 10, 2020
Power lines spark as Charleston streets flood during Hurricane Dorian. Credit: Sean Rayford/Getty Images
The city of Charleston, South Carolina is going to court to hold two dozen oil and gas companies accountable for alleged deception about the role of fossil fuels in driving climate change.
Charleston filed its lawsuit against 24 petroleum firms in South Carolina state court on September 9, joining around 20 other communities across the country pursuing similar litigation against the fossil fuel industry. Hoboken, New Jersey filed a climate lawsuit just last week against six major oil and gas companies plus the industry’s largest trade association, the American Petroleum Institute. 24 hours after Charleston's announcement, the state of Delaware announced the filing of its climate liability suit, against several fossil fuel companies and the American Petroleum Institute.
The Charleston lawsuit names major petroleum companies and their affiliates such as BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Phillips 66, ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum, and Shell Oil.
In its motion to strike (dismiss), the attorney general of Canada said the youths’ case presented non-justiciable “political” questions. This argument “fundamentally mischaracterizes the plaintiffs’ claims,” the response explains. Plaintiffs’ lawyers filed the response brief on August 31 in the Federal Court of Canada. That court will hold hearings on the motion to strike starting at the end of September.
It is the latest in a series of legal actions brought by young people around the world demanding urgent climate action to protect their fundamental rights and safeguard their futures.
The case was filed on September 3 in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. It is the first climate case brought directly to this international court. Lawyers for the youth plaintiffs will argue that European governments’ current plans for cutting greenhouse gas emissions are insufficient to prevent catastrophic climate change and therefore constitute human rights violations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
“If successful, the 33 countries would be legally bound, not only to ramp up emissions cuts, but also to tackle overseas contributions to climate change, including those of their multinational companies,” the charity Global Legal Action Network, which is providing legal support for the case, explained in a press release.
Youth Climate Lawsuit Filed Against Mexican Government
September 2, 2020
Youth plaintiffs (from left) Fadya M., Daniela G., Naomi G., Leonardo T., Nelson G., Rafael M., Alexis R. Photo courtesy of Defensa Ambiental del Noroeste
The emerging global trend of youth taking their governments to court over the climate crisis has now reached Mexico. Lawyers representing a group of 15 young people from the State of Baja California (part of Mexico) announced on Sept. 2, 2020 a new lawsuit against the Mexican federal government urging the country to issue regulations and policies derived from the Mexico’s General Law on Climate Change and the Mexican Constitution.
Hoboken, New Jersey Sues Oil Industry For Climate Impacts from its 'Deceptive actions'
September 2, 2020
New Jersey National Guard assisted displaced residents in Hoboken in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Credit: U.S. Army/Spc. Joseph Davis, via DVIDSHUB, CC BY 2.0
New Jersey has now joined the wave of lawsuits seeking to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for climate impacts. The city of Hoboken today filed a case against major oil and gas companies and the American Petroleum Institute (API), a powerful industry trade group which has played a major role in promoting “uncertainty” about climate science.
The lawsuit seeks to recover costs associated with climate impacts like extreme flooding and sea level rise. Like other climate liability lawsuits targeting fossil fuel companies, Hoboken's suit alleges that the oil and gas companies and their lobbying group not only knew early on about the climate harms resulting from their products, but actively engaged in campaigns of deception to undermine climate science and avoid policy responses.
“Here in Hoboken, we are now paying the price for these deceptive actions,” Hoboken Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla said during a press conference held Wednesday, September 2. “We cannot sit idly by and let Big Oil continue profiting at the expense of Hoboken residents.”
Panel Discussion Examines Strategies, Including Human Rights Claims, in European Climate Litigation
September 1, 2020
Several European climate cases, most recently one in Ireland, have been successful in court. Credit: Climate Case Ireland
Europe has in some ways been at the forefront of climate change litigation, particularly with cases brought against national governments seeking swifter action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to protect citizens’ fundamental rights in the face of the climate emergency. European courts have ruled in favor of climate litigants challenging their governments’ climate policies, first with the groundbreaking verdict in the Dutch Urgenda case and most recently with the Supreme Court victory for Climate Case Ireland.
Lawyers working on European climate litigation, including those who worked on these two trailblazing cases, shared their insights during a virtual panel discussion held Wednesday, September 1. The discussion focused on human rights strategies in European climate cases, and was the fourth in a climate litigation webinar series hosted by the Global Network for Human Rights and the Environment. Panelists included the Urgenda Foundation’s Dennis van Berkel, German lawyer Roda Verheyen, Andrew Jackson of Friends of the Irish Environment, and Louise Fournier with Greenpeace International.
Australian Youth Climate Case Against Queensland Coal Mine Can Advance, Court Rules
August 28, 2020
Credit: Youth Verdict, CC BY 2.0
A court in Australia has rejected a coal company’s bid to dismiss a youth climate lawsuit challenging the Galilee Coal Project in Queensland on human rights grounds. The lawsuit, filed in May by a group called Youth Verdict, will now be able to proceed in Queensland Land Court under the state’s new Human Rights Act. This is the first time a coal mine has been challenged over human rights violations due to the climate crisis.
U.S. Climate Litigation Update: Ninth Circuit Court Panel Pauses Set of California Climate Cases; Hawaii Judge Orders Honolulu's Climate Suit to Proceed
August 28, 2020
Great egret navigates flooding from king tide in San Mateo County, CA in Dec. 2016. Credit: Bonnie Crystal, CC BY NC 3.0
San Mateo County and five other California communities suing oil companies to recover costs associated with climate impacts will now have to wait before their suits proceed in state court.
On August 25, 2020 a three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the oil companies’ request for a stay or pause of an order sending the cases back to California state court where they were originally filed. The Ninth Circuit panel upheld that remand order in a May 26, 2020 ruling, which the companies unsuccessfully contested with the panel recently denying a petition for a rehearing en banc, meaning review by the full court. The companies are next turning to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Ninth Circuit has paused the cases for 90 days while the companies prepare to file a petition with the Supreme Court. If the petition is granted the stay will extend, but if the high court denies the companies’ bid then the California cases will re-start immediately in state court.
New Jersey Should Sue Fossil Fuel Companies Over Climate Costs, Panel Says
August 20, 2020
Damaged homes in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, public domain
Advocates for holding fossil fuel companies accountable in court for the substantial costs of climate change are urging New Jersey to sue oil majors like ExxonMobil, as over a dozen municipal and state governments have done over the past three years.
A month after a New Jersey senate committee passed a resolution calling on the state to take this kind of legal action, New Jersey’s Monmouth University hosted a virtual panel discussion on Wednesday, August 19 titled “Accountability for Climate Change Harms in New Jersey: Scientific, Legal and Policy Perspectives.” The discussion was intended to outline the case for New Jersey to file a climate accountability lawsuit ahead of the full state senate voting on the resolution, which could come later this month.
New Jersey Democratic State Senator Joseph Cryan, one of the lead sponsors of Senate Resolution 57, said during his opening remarks Wednesday that he is hopeful the resolution will pass the full state senate this month. The resolution specifically calls on New Jersey’s governor and attorney general “to pursue legal action against fossil fuel companies for damages caused by climate change.”
“This resolution urges the Governor and the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey to join 14 municipalities across the country and the States of Massachusetts and Rhode Island in pursuing appropriate legal action against fossil fuel companies, in order to shift the past and present costs associated with the damage caused by climate change onto the companies responsible for causing those harms,” the resolution states. The New Jersey Senate’s Environment and Energy committee voted to advance the resolution on July 20, 2020.
“Australia’s response to the Islanders’ complaint states the case should be rejected because it concerns future risks, rather than impacts being felt now. Australia’s lawyers also stated that because the country is not the main or only contributor to global warming, climate change action is not its legal responsibility under human rights law,” a press release from the environmental law organization ClientEarth, which is providing legal representation to the Islanders, explains. Australia’s official response has not been made public.
Big Oil Faces Mounting Legal Battles Over Climate Threats to its New England Oil Terminals
August 13, 2020
East Providence, Rhode Island. Credit: JJBers, CC BY 2.0
A New England-based environmental law group is taking major oil companies to court, claiming the firms have failed to adapt some of their petroleum storage terminals to withstand increasingly severe storm and flooding events worsened by the climate crisis.
CLF argues that these facilities pose a grave risk not only to the waterways and environment but also the surrounding communities, given that the oil terminals currently are not designed to standards that account for climate impacts.
Another Court Setback for Big Oil as Ninth Circuit Rejects Petition for Rehearing in Oakland and San Francisco Climate Cases
August 12, 2020
Credit: Owwe, CC BY-SA 2.0
The oil companies defending against climate liability lawsuits brought by California communities received yet another setback in court with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denying the companies’ petition for a rehearing or en banc review in a case filed by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco. A three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit issued an order denying the petition on August 12, just a week after the same panel denied a similar request from fossil fuel company defendants in cases filed by San Mateo County and five other California cities and counties.
U.S. Climate Litigation Update: Ninth Circuit Panel Rejects Oil Companies' En Banc Petition in California Climate Cases; Exxon Looks to Dismiss Mass. AG Case
August 4, 2020
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals courthouse in San Francisco. Credit: Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0
As ExxonMobil seeks to dismiss a climate-related fraud lawsuit filed against the company by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, the oil major and its industry peers received yet another court setback in climate litigation brought by California communities. On Tuesday, August 4 a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel rejected the oil companies’ petition for a full court or en banc review of a May 26 decision by that same panel upholding an order to send (remand) six climate lawsuits filed by California cities and counties back to state courts. The denial of the en banc petition means the oil companies will likely be forced to fight these California climate cases in state courts, where they may have a harder time getting the cases dismissed.
Historic Supreme Court Verdict Means Ireland's Government Must Increase climate Ambition
July 31, 2020
Credit: Climate Case Ireland
The Supreme Court of Ireland has ruled in favour of an environmental group challenging the Irish government’s climate plans, finding its policies did not meet legal requirements for detailing how the country will meet emissions-reduction targets.
The decision is only the second time a country’s highest court has required a national government to reform its climate policy in order to meet legal obligations.
Exxon Removes DC and Minnesota Consumer Protection Climate Cases to Federal Courts
July 28, 2020
Credit: Johnny Silvercloud via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0
ExxonMobil is leading the charge for Big Oil entities in moving two new climate-related lawsuits filed against the entities in June from state court to federal court, arguing the cases brought by the attorneys general of Washington DC and Minnesota are “political acts” seeking to dictate climate policy. Attorneys General Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Karl Racine of the District of Columbia filed their cases on June 24 and June 25, respectively, in state and local courts alleging Big Oil violated state and local consumer protection statutes by misleading consumers about the climate consequences of their fossil fuel products. Defendants in the Minnesota case include ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and two Koch subsidiaries, and the main U.S. oil and gas trade association, the American Petroleum Institute. Defendants in the DC case include ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Shell.
Law Student Sues Australia Over Failing to Disclose Climate-Related Financial Risks
July 23, 2020
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Credit: G20 Argentina, CC BY 2.0
A 23-year-old law student in Melbourne, Australia has brought what is described as a “world-first” climate lawsuit against the Australian government for failing to disclose climate-related risks to holders of government bonds. The climate crisis poses a material financial risk to investors in Australian sovereign bonds, the lawsuit contends, and the government has a legal duty to disclose these risks.
UK Government Faces Legal Action Challenging COVID Recovery Program on Climate Grounds
July 21, 2020
Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives an economic recovery speech on June 30, 2020. Credit: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A nonprofit climate litigation organization in the UK is challenging the British government’s COVID economic recovery plan on climate change grounds, taking the first step in the legal process by sending a formal notice to the government on July 21.
The organization Plan B sent the notice, called a Pre-Action Protocol letter, to several UK government officials including Prime Minister Boris Johnson as well as Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey and Chair of UK Export Finance Noël Harwerth. The Pre-Action Protocol follows an informal letter that Plan B sent on July 7, and requests the government officials explain how the UK economic recovery program complies with the government’s legal obligations to act on the climate crisis. Plan B says it intends to file a lawsuit in the Administrative Court if the government does not provide an “adequate response” by August 4, 2020.
Canada Says Kids Can't Sue Over Climate Crisis: Federal Government Moves to Dismiss Canadian Youth Climate Case
July 20, 2020
Attorney General of Canada David Lametti. Credit: BC Gov Photos, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Canadian federal government is asking the Federal Court of Canada to dismiss a constitutional climate lawsuit brought by 15 young people alleging the government is failing to protect their fundamental rights through actions and inaction that worsen the climate crisis. Such a lawsuit is about questions of policy that cannot be handled by courts, the government argues.
“Canada moves to strike the Statement of Claim (“Claim”) not because it disagrees with the importance of addressing global climate change, but because the legal claims advanced by the Plaintiffs are not justiciable,” the Attorney General of Canada wrote in a motion to strike (dismiss) filed July 10 in the case La Rose et. al. v. Her Majesty the Queen. “The Claim does not target any particular law or its application. Instead, it asks the Court to decide whether the executive is governing well,” the Attorney General argued in the motion, adding that the issues raised are “legislative and political in nature.”
Baltimore filed the suit to hold these companies – major producers of fossil fuels – liable for monetary damages to help pay for the localized impacts of climate change, impacts the city says are worsened by the companies’ alleged campaign of deception and denial to undermine the science and avoid climate action. The companies are waging a procedural battle to remove this case and similar climate lawsuits to federal courts, where they believe they have an easier path to dismissal. But four federal district judges and three federal appeals courts have now ruled that the cases should be remanded, or sent back, to state courts where they were originally filed. The companies are challenging these rulings.
Australia is Fueling Climate Crisis and Violating Human Rights, Environmental Law Groups Tell UN Human Rights Council
July 16, 2020
Queensland's Mission Beach was directly hit by Cyclone Yasi in 2011
Australia is violating human rights in its continued support of fossil fuels and contributions to the climate crisis, environmental lawyers in Australia and the U.S. explain in a recent submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council. These lawyers are urging the Council to make recommendations that Australia take actions to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to “reflect the highest possible ambition” and to phase out fossil fuels.
Environmental Justice Australia, Environmental Defenders Office, and the U.S.-based group Earthjustice – nongovernmental organizations working on environmental law issues – submitted a document on July 8 to the UN Human Rights Council outlining how Australia is failing to uphold its legal obligations to protect human rights with respect to the climate crisis. The submission is part of a UN process called a Universal Periodic Review (UPR), whereby the Human Rights Council reviews UN member states’ human rights records approximately every five years. The Council issues a report to each country under review and countries can either accept or take notice of the report’s recommendations. Australia is scheduled for review in early 2021.
Colorado Governor and State Agency Sued for Missing Deadline to Act on Climate
July 10, 2020
Credit: WildEarth Guardians, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Colorado Governor Jared Polis and a state environmental agency are facing a new lawsuit filed by an environmental advocacy group arguing the government failed to meet a legally required deadline to issue rules for reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions as mandated by statute.
The lawsuit, filed July 9 in Denver County District Court by the group WildEarth Guardians, seeks to compel Colorado regulators into action on meeting the state’s climate targets. Those emissions reduction targets are outlined in a bill signed into law last year, including a 26 percent cut in emissions by 2025, 50 percent cut by 2030, and 90 percent reduction by 2050. A related bill also signed into law last year includes a deadline of July 1, 2020 for the state to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking for measures that would allow the state to meet its targets. WildEarth Guardians says the state has not met this deadline and claims this failure is “arbitrary and capricious” and unlawful under the statute.
Appeals Court Rules Colorado Climate Case Can Proceed in State Court
July 7, 2020
"Flatirons on Fire" showing wildfire smoke in the Boulder area. Credit: Zach Dischner, CC BY 2.0
Colorado communities suing oil companies ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy over local climate impacts and associated costs can advance their case in Colorado state court, a federal appeals court has ruled. It is the latest setback for fossil fuel companies fighting similar climate liability lawsuits across the country.
The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday, July 7 to uphold a lower court order remanding or sending back to state court a lawsuit originally filed in April 2018 in Boulder County District Court, a Colorado state court. The city and county of Boulder and the county of San Miguel brought the lawsuit against ExxonMobil and Suncor alleging the unchecked sale and promotion of petroleum products in the state, despite the climate-related risks known to the industry, are exacerbating costly impacts like extreme heat, drought, wildfires and floods. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages and includes legal claims of nuisance, trespass, and violation of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.
Report: Global Climate Lawsuits Against Governments and Polluters on the Rise
July 6, 2020
Climate litigation increasingly focuses on human rights violations stemming from the climate crisis
Climate litigation is not going away any time soon.
Lawsuits demanding accountability and action on the existential threat of climate change continue to take hold across the world with some significant new developments and new cases emerging over the past year, according to a new report on trends in global climate change litigation.
That report, published July 3 by the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, provides an overview of climate change lawsuits around the world including key developments between May 2019 and May 2020. Grantham Research Institute maintains a database of global climate change lawsuits and in recent years has issued annual reports on trends in climate litigation.
Over the past three decades climate change lawsuits have spread across six continents with over 1,500 cases identified in 37 countries, according to the latest report. Most of these cases are in the U.S., though increasingly cases are emerging outside the U.S. including 26 new cases in the last year alone. The Global South (Asia, Africa and Latin America) has seen 37 cases of climate litigation to date.
While a majority of climate-related lawsuits are routine cases such as challenges to fossil fuel permitting or regulatory procedures, cases are also being brought more strategically as a way to hold governments and companies accountable for damaging climate impacts. This kind of litigation against national governments and against fossil fuel companies has taken off in recent years.
A lawsuit brought by an environmental group against the Irish government seeking more urgent action to stave off climate catastrophe and protect citizens came before the country's Supreme Court last week. If successful, it could have a ripple effect on courts being used to hold national governments to account for failing to slash emissions at the required pace to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Climate Case Ireland, as the Irish lawsuit is called, challenges the country’s 2017 National Mitigation Plan. That policy sets out pathways for transitioning to a low carbon economy by 2050 but, as the lawsuit argues, does not include near-term requirements for rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) is suing the government claiming that the 2017 policy is inadequate and violates Irish statutory law, the Irish Constitution, and the European Convention on Human Rights. According to FIE, data from the government’s own Environmental Protection Agency shows that Ireland’s emissions between 1990 and 2020 will increase by 11-12 percent, and the country is not on track to meeting its emission reduction goals by 2030.