It was a simple but powerful message – while negotiators agreed to delay action, Pacific island nations like Tuvalu are sinking into rising seas and could be swallowed up as soon as the end of this century.
The judge on Thursday reserved – or delayed – the decision to take it more into account in what could be interpreted as the court taking the case seriously.
The three activists – Adetola Stephanie Onamade, Marina Tricks and Jerry Amokwandoh, who are all in their 20s – and the charity Plan B Earth are trying to challenge this whole concept. The activists have Nigerian and Trinidadian, Mexican and Ghanaian heritage, respectively, and believe that historical emitters have a duty of care towards people, such as their relatives, in the global south.
“[The previous court] rejected the idea that our family life included our family around the world, or our family back home, “Amokwandoh told CNN before Thursday’s decision.” And they said your family can only be confined to the British Isles. It is a colonial way of thinking. “
Tricks said they are particularly targeting fossil fuel projects in the pipeline, including a proposed coal mine in the north-west of England, which is under review, and the exploration of oil in the North Sea.
“We are ultimately being screwed down by the system, by this government, because of its funding of the climate crisis,” Tricks said. “It actively funds extraction projects that pollute our lands, our waters and our air.”
A spokesman for the British government said: “We are not commenting on ongoing lawsuits.”
This kind of litigation is something the British government and many around the world need to get used to. In a separate case, a number of activists backed by a group called Paid to Pollute will take Johnson’s administration to the High Court on Dec. 8 to block state money flowing to new fossil fuel projects.
The group says the UK government spent £ 13.6 billion on oil and gas subsidies between 2016 and 2020, following the Paris Agreement, which obliged the world to try to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, but preferably 1.5. Most of the money was paid in tax breaks for new oil and gas exploration and production, it says.
Globally, the number of climate change-related lawsuits has more than doubled since 2015, according to the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. Just over 800 cases were brought between 1986 and 2014, but more than 1,000 have been brought since the year the Paris Agreement was signed, according to the latest report published in July.
“We see a lot of groups using the courts to try to promote climate action where there can be frustrations over the political processes,” said Catherine Higham, coordinator of the Climate Change Laws of the World program at the Grantham Research Institute.
“We see that plaintiffs are using the courts to try to promote climate action, but also as a tool to push the boundaries of political debate,” she said.
That decision could really be transformative. It would be very difficult for a company like Shell to reduce its emissions by 45% without converting a large part of its oil to renewable energy sources or low-emission energy sources.
Higham says the decision could pave the way for similar court rulings against other major emitters. A similar case against French oil giant Total is pending in France.
“One of the ways in which the Shell case differs from others is that instead of looking at compensation, the court gave a forward-looking order on what Shell should do – a statement that what Shell is currently doing is insufficient, “she said.
“While we can not say how other cases, like the one against Total, will end up, there is a good chance that those cases will result in similar judgments against many other companies, or at least that there will be many more cases. based on the basis of the Shell case. “
Science finally gets its opinion in court
Today, courts are increasingly considering science in their climate-related decisions, according to Bill Hare, senior researcher and CEO of the think tank Climate Analytics.
“Courts are looking at what science says, they are gaining more and more weight for reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),” Hare said, referring to the UN landmark climate science report, which is published every six to seven years. . The latest was released in August amid a wave of extreme weather events across the northern hemisphere.
“There is still a huge gap between what countries make in terms of emissions promises and what is needed according to IPCC science, so that’s another dimension of this that the courts will look at,” Hare said.
“I think it’s something that will be very testing on governments. We’ve seen it already within the last 12 to 24 months and it can only grow.”
Climate scientists are increasingly being encouraged to share their expertise in the courts, and as they become better able to create clear links between countries ‘and companies’ emissions and their impacts – such as heat waves or wildfires – large emitters have less room to to hide. This even happens in cross-border cases.
An example is a case from an Austrian activist group called AllRise against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. The group is asking the International Criminal Court to deal with the case, saying Bolsonaro’s policies that allowed the rapid deforestation of the Amazon released emissions that contributed to climate change, causing deaths and real losses and damage to people’s livelihoods.
Researchers were able to estimate how much carbon dioxide and methane were emitted from these policies and found that it accounted for about 1% of the world’s global greenhouse gases each year. That is about the same as Britain’s total emissions, they wrote in an expert post on the matter.
They also found that the amount emitted would lead to more than 180,000 excess heat-related deaths globally before 2100. That is also even though global emissions are significantly reduced.
“Climate change is killing people. And Bolsonaro’s policies are not only increasing emissions, they are increasing the intensity of heat waves, and it is affecting people’s lives around the world, and of course it is ruining local livelihoods,” said Friederike Otto of Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute. who was among the researchers behind the written submission to the case.
“This kind of environmental destruction, at such a level, you should count as a crime against humanity because it destroys livelihoods on a large scale.”
The Bolsonaro administration did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Otto also leads the World Weather Attribution project, a group of researchers who use modeling and data analysis to assess how much climate change has contributed to an extreme weather event.
This kind of science is useful in tort cases when a court has to assess a civil wrong that has caused loss or damage.
“I think it’s also important in the Bolsonaro example, because one can no longer hide behind generic drugs,” Otto said. “It is not some vague future generation that will suffer. It is concrete people here who are losing their livelihoods and concrete dollars that someone would have to pay.”
The Bolsonaro case is truly unique in that it is difficult to pursue lawsuits internationally on climate issues. For example, there is no dedicated international tribunal for climate crime, and even the ICC has its limitations. It may be limited by its own power politics, and some countries have refused to cooperate in matters involving them.
ClientEarth, a non-profit organization providing legal services and advice on climate cases, has had several successes, including a 2020 case that led to Poland stopping the construction of a coal mine.
A lawyer for the group, Sophie Marjanac, told CNN that COP26’s failure to establish a system to pay for climate change compensation was “nothing short of a betrayal.”
“Climate change is inherently unequal: its effects – such as droughts, heat waves, floods and rising seas – are most felt in the least responsible countries. This is clearly a human rights issue,” she said.
“When governments do not intervene, lawsuits will increasingly be used to hold them accountable.”