Cases Against Corporations, Business, and Industry
Baltimore v. BP The City of Baltimore filed suit against 26 fossil fuel companies seeking to hold the companies liable for injuries caused by climate change.
Beyond Pesticides v. ExxonMobil A nonprofit sued Exxon for violating a District of Columbia Consumer Protection law, arguing that Exxon had engaged in a greenwashing campaign that led the public to believe it engages in clean forms of energy at a significant level while in reality its business remains entrenched in the production and delivery of fossil fuels.
ClientEarth v. Enea ClientEarth, a nonprofit environmental law organization, sued the Polish utility company Enea SA as a minority shareholder, arguing that the decision to build a coal-fired power plant posed an unjustifiable financial risk to shareholders because it did not take climate change properly into account. The court agreed, making this the first time a NGO had used its position as a shareholder to successfully block a fossil fuel project.
Comer v. Murphy Oil The plaintiffs brought a class action suit against a number of fossil fuel companies for their contribution to climate change which contributed to the destructive power of Hurricane Katrina, which damaged the plaintiffs' properties.
Commonwealth v. ExxonMobil Action by Massachusetts attorney general asserting that Exxon Mobil Corporation committed deceptive practices against Massachusetts investors and consumers, including by failing to disclose climate change risks.
Complaint against BP in respect of violations of the OECD Guidelines ClientEarth, a British environmental group, brought a suit against BP after it released a large ad campaign in the UK that touted its investment in clean energy. The suit alleged BP misled the public by overstating its investment in clean energy. Before the case could be heard, BP announced it was ending the advertising campaign and would not replace it. It also announced it would end corporate reputation advertising unless it is to promote policies that support net zero.
District of Columbia v. ExxonMobil Lawsuit filed by the District of Columbia against oil and gas companies for allegedly violating the Consumer Protection Procedures Act by misleading consumers about “the central role their products play in causing climate change.”
ENVironnement JEUnesse v. Canada An environmental NGO applied to bring a class action suit on behalf of Quebec citizens aged 35 and other, arguing that their human rights had been violated by the Canadian governments failure to act on climate change. The case alleges violations of fundamental rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Greenpeace Poland v. PGE Giec Greenpeace brought a suit against a Polish utility and operator of the world's largest lignite coal mine seeking to stop any further fossil fuel investments and achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions from its existing coal plants by 2030 at the latest
Harvard Climate Justice Coalition v. Harvard College A group of Harvard students brought a legal action to try to compel Harvard to divest from fossil fuels.
In re Exxon Mobil Corp. Derivative Litigation Consolidated shareholder derivative action against directors and senior officers of Exxon Mobil Corporation for misleading the public concerning climate change and its impacts on Exxon's business.
In Re Greenpeace Southeast Asia and Others Greenpeace Southeast Asia and numerous other organizations and individuals filed a petition asking the Commission to investigate a general issue—“the human rights implications of climate change and ocean acidification and the resulting rights violations in the Philippines”—and a more specific one—“whether the investor-owned Carbon Majors have breached their responsibilities to respect the rights of the Filipino people.” The core factual allegation of the petition draws on research identifying particular entities’ quantum of responsibility for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions since 1751. The original petition names 50 of those entities, all publicly traded corporations, as respondents. It identifies multiple sources of human rights, but draws most heavily on the UN Human Rights Commission’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights .
Kivalina v. ExxonMobil The Arctic village of Kivalina filed a case seeking redress of financial harm from some of the largest producers and emitters of greenhouse gases in the United States (ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Peabody, etc.) for their contribution to climate change. A United States District Court dismissed the federal nuisance claim for lack of jurisdiction over the matter because the claim raised a political issue and plaintiffs lacked standing. Plaintiffs filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court seeking review of a Ninth Circuit’s decision finding that its lawsuit seeking damages under state common law was displaced by the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court denied the writ without comment .
Lliuya v. RWE Peruvian farmer Saúl Luciano Lliuya filed a letter of complaint against RWE, a German energy company, over the impact of its activities on climate change. The plaintiff alleges that his home in Huaraz, on the flood path of Palcacocha Lake, is “acutely threatened” by the potential collapse of two glaciers into the lake that would cause significant flooding as a consequence of global warming. Lliuya argues that RWE has contributed to the emission of greenhouse gases that have in turn contributed to the thawing of the two glaciers. He requests compensation of £ 14,250. LLiuya seeks to use the compensation to address the potential flooding in two ways: 1) to install an early warning system designed to alert of sudden melting of the glacier that drains into the Palchoa Lagoon and 2) to build new, as well as make improvements to existing dams in an effort to prevent future flooding risk to the surrounding area. Currently, the case is active, and it could set an important precedent for holding companies accountable for their actions that contribute to significant greenhouse gas emissions.
McVeigh v. Retail Employees Superannuation Trust Mark McVeigh, a pension fund member, sued the Retail Employees Superannuation Trust over it's lack of accounting for climate impacts in its investment decisions.
Minnesota v. American Petroleum Institute Minnesota's Attorney General brought a suit against the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, and Koch Industries for allegedly causing climate related harms while misleading the public through a "campaign of deception."
New York v. ExxonMobil An action brought by the New York Attorney General alleging that Exxon had engaged in a fraudulent scheme to deceive investors about the company's management of risks posed by climate change regulation.
Notre Affaire a Tous v. Total Several NGO's sued the French carbon major Total seeking a court order forcing Total to bring its corporate practice in line with meeting the goals of The Paris Agreement.
Oakland v. BP City of Oakland and City of San Francisco filed a suit in California Superior Court against five oil and gas companies for financing the San Francisco Climate Adaptation Program, alleging that carbon emissions from their fossil fuel production had created an illegal public nuisance. The Court held that the claim was outside of their scope of jurisdiction. However, the court did recognize the science behind the explanation of the impact of fossil fuels on climate change. It likewise highlighted the need for measures to be taken on a larger scale to resolve the conflict. Currently, appeals are being made for this case.
Okpabi v. Royal Dutch Shell Residents of two Nigerian communities sued Royal Dutch Shell in U.K. courts over extensive oil pollution in their communities. They alleged negligence by Shell's Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Corporation of Nigeria.
Ramirez v. ExxonMobil Shareholders brought a suit against Exxon for failure to disclose climate risks, arguing that it had misled the public and shareholders by using different accounting for the costs of GHG emissions in public than they did in private.
Cases against government
Ali v. Federation of Pakistan A suit brought by, among others, a 7-year old girl against the Pakistani government and the Province of Sindh. The petition accuses the Pakistani government of violating human rights and the public trust doctrine through various actions and inactions, including the proposed development of coal fields in the Thar desert region.
Border Power Plant Working Group v. Department of Energy Plaintiffs challenged the environmental assessment for transmission lines that would carry electricity generated from gas-fired power plants in Mexico to California. Part of the challenge was that the environmental assessment had failed to consider the impacts of carbon dioxide emissions that would be produced by the burning of fossil gas.
Carvalho v. The European Parliament and the Council, also known as The People's Climate Case, is an action brought by ten families, including children, in the EU General Court seeking to compel the EU to take more stringent greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Cordella and Others v. Italy The ECtHR held that the negative impact of the unsafe or disruptive environmental conditions on the applicants' wellbeing resulted in a violation of Article 8 of the Convention while the government's failure to provide applicants with a means to raise their complaints before national courts resulted in a violation of Article 13.
Decision C-035/16 of February 8, 2016 Colombian's Constitutional Court struck down two laws that would have allowed development in a sensitive, high-altitude environment known as a Paramos. The Court noted the greenhouse gas capture ability of the ecosystem as one reason why it should be protected.
EarthLife Africa Johannesburg v. Minister of Environmental Affairs A suit was brought regarding the minister's decision to approve a new coal-fired power plant. The environmental review for the project did not assess climate change impacts. The High Court ruled that the environmental review should have included a climate change impact assessment. Part of the reasoning was South Africa's commitments under the Paris Agreement.
Fadeyeva v. Russia The ECtHR unanimously found the government violated Article 8 of the Convention due to failing on resettling a family which lives in a severely polluted area and on applying effective measures to reduce industrial pollution.
Future Generations v. Ministry of the Environment A number of young Colombians sued the Colombian government, Colombian municipalities, and a number of corporations arguing that the failure to reduce deforestation as agreed under the Paris Agreement and National Development Plan threatens plaintiffs' fundamental rights.
Gbemre v. Shell The Jonah Gbemre filed a suit against Shell and the Nigerian government arguing that the flaring of gas in the Niger Delta violated the constitutional rights of people in the area.
German Federation for Environment and Conservation (B.U.N.D.) v. Minister for Commerce and Labor Two German environmental groups brought a suit seeking to get the German government to release climate change impacts of German export credits. The credits had provided financial support for projects that contributed to climate change. The court ruled that the impacts must be released.
Gloucester Resources Limited v. Minister for Planning A mining company sued over the decision to block a proposed coal mine in Australia. The court ruled that the decision to deny the permit was valid because the mine was not in the public's interest. Climate change was a significant factor in the decision.
Greenpeace Austria et al. v. Austria Over 8,000 Austrian citizens brought a suit against the Austrian government for policies that favored airline travel over other forms of transportation despite the negative climate impacts of flying.
Greenpeace Nordic Ass’n v. Ministry of Petroleum and Energy A coalition of environmental groups sought a declaratory judgment from the Oslo District Court that Norway’s Ministry of Petroleum and Energy violated the Norwegian constitution by issuing a block of oil and gas licenses for deep-sea extraction from sites in the Barents Sea.
In re Court on its own motion v. State of Himachal Pradesh An Indian Court ruled that because citizens have a right to a wholesome, clean, and decent environment, the government must take actions to reduce Black Carbon emissions, which play a role in accelerating the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas.
Juliana v. United States Distinctive because the case was filed by 21 youth plaintiffs, along with an organization called Earth Guardian. They demand that the United States government act affirmatively to promote climate change. They allege that the government's current actions violate the constitutional rights of the younger generation to life, liberty, and property, and it has not succeeded in protecting essential public trust resources (the case is currently in force). Plaintiffs argued that the judiciary’s duty to safeguard fundamental rights, particularly those of children without voting power. Notable: US District Judge Ann Aiken- Exercising my reasoned judgment, I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society. 3/24/2020: Appellants filed opposition to petition for hearing en banc.
Kain v. Department of Environmental Protection A group of four teenagers and two nonprofits brought a suit in Massachusetts state court seeking to compel the state to impose comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions cuts in order to comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the state to implement regulations to meet its greenhouse gas emissions mandates.
Khan v. Federation of Pakistan A group of Pakistani women filed a suit on behalf of themselves and future generations alleging the Pakistani government's failure to address climate change violates their fundamental rights and equal protection under the law.
Kim Yujin et al. v. South Korea On March 12, 2020, 30 youth activists who were members of the organization Youth 4 Climate Change filed a complaint against the government of South Korea in the South Korean Constitutional Court. The complaint alleges that Article 42 Section 1 Subparagraph 1 of the Framework Act on Low Carbon, Article 25 Section of the Enforcement Decree of the Framework Act on Low Carbon, the abolition of the “2020 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Target” as set out in Article 25 Section of the Enforcement Decree of the Framework Act on Low Carbon are all unconstitutional and infringe upon the petitioners rights. Those individual rights being the basic rights of human dignity (Article 10 of the Constitution), the equal protection right (Article 11 of the Constitution), the right to live a humanly life (Article 34 of the Constitution), the environmental right (Article 35 of the Constitution), the protection of environmental rights backed by the law (Article 35 Section 2 of the Constitution), and the nondelegation doctrine (Article 75 of the Constitution). This complaint calls upon the South Korean Constitutional court to declare these acts unconstitutional and create effective climate change mitigation that follows the promises the South Korean government made not only in their Constitution but in the Paris Climate Accord.
Leghari v. Federation of Pakistan An appellate court in Pakistan granted the claims of Ashgar Leghari, a Pakistani farmer, who had sued the national government for failure to carry out the National Climate Change Policy of 2012 and the Framework for Implementation of Climate Change Policy (2014-2030). On September 4, 2015, the court, citing domestic and international legal principles, determined that "the delay and lethargy of the State in implementing the Framework offend the fundamental rights of the citizens." As a remedy, the court 1) directed several government ministries to each nominate "a climate change focal person" to help ensure the implementation of the Framework, and to present a list of action points by December 31, 2015; and 2) created a Climate Change Commission composed of representatives of key ministries, NGOs, and technical experts to monitor the government's progress. On September 14 the court issued a supplemental decision naming 21 individuals to the commission and vesting it with various powers.
López Ostra v. Spain The ECtHR ruled that severe environmental pollution violates the right to respect for private and family life (and home) by potentially affecting individuals’ wellbeing and preventing them from enjoying their homes.
Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights (MFHR) v. Greece A human rights NGO sued the Greek government over its oversight and partial ownership of several coal mines and coal fired power plants.
Massachusetts v. EPA On April, 2nd 2007, a group of private organizations along with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts successfully won a case in which they appealed the denial of a petition made by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court of the United States for the EPA to begin regulating the emissions of greenhouse gases and to make a formal determination as to whether greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles contribute to "air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare." The EPA claimed that under the Clean Air it did not have the authority to issue mandatory regulations to address global climate change, and, even if it had the power to set greenhouse gas emission standards, it would have been unwise to do so at that time because a causal link between greenhouse gases and the increase in global surface air temperatures was not unequivocally established. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in a 5-4 decision stating that Massachusetts does have a stake in this case due to potential damages of climate change and that the EPA's argument rests on the erroneous assumption that GHG regulation is a small incremental step because it is incremental, can never be attacked in a federal judicial forum.
Notre Affaire à Tous v. France Four French NGO's sued the French State for failure to live up to its climate commitments.
Öneryildiz v. Turkey The ECtHR found that the government breached its positive obligation that stipulated under Article 2 since the authorities were aware of the risk and did not protect the individuals from the explosion of methane.
Petition of Torres Strait Islanders On May 13th 2019, A group of 8 Torres Strait Islanders filed the first human rights based climate change legal action complaint in Australia. The complaint submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee alleges that the Australian government’s failure to address climate change violates Article 27 (the right to culture), Article 17 (the right to be free from arbitrary interference with privacy, family, and home), and Article 6 (the right to life) under the ICCPR (the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). The complaint also calls upon Canberra to help protect the Torres Strait, a region made up of over 270 islands as well as part of the Great Barrier Reef, by committing at least 20 million dollars for emergency and long-term adaptation measures, reducing its emissions by 65% below 2005 levels by 2030 and going net zero by 2050, and phasing out thermal coal. As of February 2020 the Australian government has agreed to give 25 million dollars for the emergency and adaptive measure but has not agreed to the other two requests.
Sacchi et al. v. Argentina et al. Sixteen children filed a petition alleging that five countries had violated their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by making insufficient cuts to GHG emissions. Petitioners claim that the rights to life, health, prioritization of the child's best interest, and cultural rights have been violated. All defendants have ratified the convention and signed the Paris Agreement, but failed to make or keep commitments that align with keeping temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius.
Saramaka People v. Suriname The IACtHR has stated that disrupting indigenous peoples' environment without taking into consideration of their close bond with their land breached their right to property and the right to cultural identity.
Sarayaku v. Ecuador The IACtHR ruled that Ecuador has an obligation to ensure a meaningful consultation process with indigenous peoples for an oil company project that will affect their environment and rights.
Save Lamu v. National Environmental Management Authority This case involved the issuance of a license for a coal-fired power plant (the first in Kenya) by the National Environmental Management Authority. The plaintiffs argued that the issuance failed to have meaningful public participation in the process, that the Environmental Assessment was incomplete and scientifically insignificant, and that consideration should be given to climate change under the Climate Change Act of 2016.
Sheikh Asim Farooq v. Federation of Pakistan Several Pakistani citizens sued the Pakistani government arguing that the government had failed to plant and conserve trees and forests in Punjab in violation of Pakistani law and the plaintiffs' constitutional rights.
Swiss Senior Women for Climate Protection v. Swiss Federal Council In 2016, a group of senior women, filed suit against the Swiss Government, alleging that the government had failed to uphold obligations under the Swiss Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) by not steering Switzerland onto an emissions reduction trajectory consistent with the goal of keeping global temperatures below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels/ Specifically, petitioners alleged the government had violated articles 10 (right to life), 73 (sustainability principle), and 74 (precautionary principle) of the Swiss Constitution and by articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The women’s petition noted that their demographic group is especially vulnerable to the heat waves expected to result from climate change. It asked that the legislature and the federal agencies responsible for transportation, environmental protection, and energy be required to develop a regulatory approach to several sectors that would achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions of at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2050. It criticized both the targets currently under discussion in the legislature (20% by 2020 and 30% by 2030) and the measures by which the Government would pursue those targets.
Syncrude Canada Ltd. v. Attorney General of Canada A Canadian oil company challenged a government regulation that at least two percent of the content of diesel fuels be renewable, even for the oil the company produces for its own use. The court upheld the regulation.
Taşkın and Others v. Turkey The applicants alleged that, as a result of the Ovacık gold mine’s development and operations, they had suffered and continued to suffer the effects of environmental damage; specifically, these included the movement of people and noise pollution caused by the use of machinery and explosives. The ECtHR found that Article 8 of the ECHR was violated since the respondent State had not fulfilled its obligation to secure the applicants’ right to respect for their private and family life.
Tătar v. Romania The ECtHR found that the failure to provide information about environmental risks or hazards constitute a violation of Article 8.
Thomson v. Minister for Climate Change Issues A New Zealand law student brought a suit against the New Zealand government for inadequate targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions.
Urgenda Foundation v. State of the Netherlands A Dutch environmental group, the Urgenda Foundation, and 900 Dutch citizens sued the Dutch government to require it to do more to prevent global climate change. The court in the Hague ordered the Dutch state to limit GHG emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, finding the government’s existing pledge to reduce emissions by 17% insufficient to meet the state’s fair contribution toward the UN goal of keeping global temperature increases within two degrees Celsius of pre-industrial conditions. The court concluded that the state has a duty to take climate change mitigation measures due to the “severity of the consequences of climate change and the great risk of climate change occurring.” In reaching this conclusion, the court cited (without directly applying) Article 21 of the Dutch Constitution; EU emissions reduction targets; principles under the European Convention on Human Rights; the “no harm” principle of international law; the doctrine of hazardous negligence; the principle of fairness, the precautionary principle, and the sustainability principle embodied in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; and the principle of a high protection level, the precautionary principle, and the prevention principle embodied in the European climate policy. The court did not specify how the government should meet the reduction mandate, but offered several suggestions, including emissions trading or tax measures.
WildEarth Guardians v. United States Bureau of Land Management Environmental groups challenged the issuance of leases for coal mines on the basis that the environmental assessment had failed to appropriately take greenhouse gas emissions into account. The government's assessment had claimed that the coal mines would not produce any greenhouse gases because they would be perfectly displaced by coal mines elsewhere. The court ruled this argument was arbitrary and capricious.
Yanomami v. Brazil The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that Brazil's construction of a highway and exploitation of the natural resources on the ancestral lands of Yanomamis threatened their life and caused environmental harm. In its decision, the Commission demonstrated that a State can be held accountable for violating human rights if it fails to take measures to prevent others from degrading the environment.
Youth for Climate Justice v. Austria, et al. In the summer of 2017, GLAN, the Global Legal Action Network, set up a crowdfunding campaign to help fund a case on behalf of Portuguese children against the 47 European countries who signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights for their failure to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. The goal of this case would be to have at least 22 of these 47 countries, which are responsible for about 15% of greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen their emissions-cutting policies, and commit to keeping the fossil fuel reserves they have in the ground. This crowdfunding campaign is still up and has reached its first goal of 20,000£ and has stretched its goal to 100,000£.
Freedom to protest activist cases
Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Ward Ken Ward and Jay O'Hara were prosecuted in October 2013 on four charges related to their May 2013 coal blockade at Brayton Point: disturbing the peace, conspiracy, failure to act to prevent a collision, and the negligent operation of a motor boat. The defense used by the lawyers is interesting, as they wanted to demonstrate that the blocking of the ship was necessary due to the threat it represents for climate change. This defense of necessity had to unravel three important elements. First: that the accused faced a clear and imminent danger, not debatable or speculative; Second: that the accused reasonably expected that his actions would be effective in directly reducing or eliminating the danger; and Third, that there was no legal alternative that would have been effective in reducing or eliminating the hazard. The origin of this action was to demonstrate that the crisis caused by climate change is real.
Credit Suisse Protesters Trial A dozen climate activists occupied a Credit Suisse branch to protest the bank's fossil fuel investments. They were arrested and charged. They relied upon the necessity defense, arguing that their actions were necessary and proportional. This defense received mixed response from the Swiss judicial system. Some protesters were able to get acquittals and some judges deemed their actions necessary and proportional, others did not.
Trial of Angela Ditchfield An Extinction Rebellion protester was cleared of criminal liability for defacing a council building. She invoked the necessity defense, arguing climate disaster posed an imminent threat to her property. She was found not guilty as the court found she was acting to protect land and homes.
UK coal activists Climate activists are preparing to close coal mines in the United Kingdom for three days. They are dissatisfied with the expansion plans because the burning of fossil fuels accelerates the climate emergency. This type of action pursues the interest of demanding that the government implement policies that are consistent with the problems that are experienced as a consequence of climate change.
Valve turners Five climate activists shut down pipeline valves that transport tar sands to the United States, aiming to demonstrate in court the need to take these actions. The effects of climate change have not been considered real and are not being considered by governments for the implementation of policies.
Weisweiler coal plant disruption On November 15th, 2017 activists used technical equipment to block the coal-fired power plant Weisweiler. They almost forced a complete shutdown of the power plant. As a result, the power plant emitted over 27,000 tons less CO2 into the atmosphere. The action was called “WeShutDown.” The identified activists are now facing both civil proceedings (for damages amounting to more than two million euros) and criminal proceedings. The activists will make political use of the trial and will seize the opportunity to accuse RWE of destroying the livelihoods of millions of people worldwide. Public attention was critical, so they started a solidarity campaign called “WeDontShutUp” in February.
In re: AD (Tuvalu) A family from Tuvalu, one of the lowest-lying nations in the world, brought an appeal against a decision to deny them New Zealand resident visas. One of the arguments made was that their home of Tuvalu was threatened due to climate change. The court ultimately granted them immigration status for reasons other than climate change.
Ioane Teitiota v. The Chief Executive of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment A resident of Kiribati appealed the denial of refugee status in New Zealand arguing the impacts climate change and rising seas would have on Kiribati. The courts rejected the claims and denied refugee status. Lastly, UN Human Rights Committee rejected the claims by reasoning it is not an immediate danger, given the ten to fifteen-year timeframe, so there has an adequate period for intervening to protecting citizens from a country becoming submerged. However, the Committee highlighted that the countries should not deport individuals who suffer from a violation of their right to life as a result of climate change-induced circumstances irrespective of whether it is caused either through sudden-onset climate events or slow-onset climate events.
- Kaminski, I. (2019). Climate Activists Win Shareholder Suit to Thwart Coal Plant in Poland. The Climate Docket