Climate change litigation is growing and targeting companies in different sectors

The body of climate change legal cases is becoming more diverse, now involving not only claims of disinformation and greenwashing against oil, gas, and cement companies. Other types of companies with a high carbon footprint, such as those in the meat and dairy industry, are also being targeted. Joana Setzer and Catherine Higham summarise how climate litigation is affecting the private sector.

In May of this year, climate change litigation made global headlines in the wake of an unprecedented judgment issued by the Hague District Court in the case of Milieudefensie v Shell. The court ordered Shell to enhance the ambition of its greenhouse gas emissions reduction efforts, requiring the company to set – and meet – companywide emissions reduction targets of 45% below 1990 levels by 2030. While this case was the first of its kind, it is also part of a growing global body of climate change litigation, which is playing an increasingly critical role in the domestic implementation and enforcement of the Paris Agreement.

Globally, the cumulative number of climate change-related cases has more than doubled since 2015 (see Figure 1 below). Just over 800 cases were filed between 1986 and 2014, while over 1,000 cases have been brought in the last six years. Among these, cases of ‘strategic’ litigation – cases filed with the express aim of achieving a wider societal goal – have been on the rise. While most litigation continues to be filed against governments, a small but growing group of cases also targets the private sector.

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