Politicians are failing to deliver climate justice. Lawyers and scientists could do it in court

It was a simple but strong message – while negotiators made agreements to delay action, island nations in the Pacific such as Tuvalu are drowning in rising seas, and may be swallowed whole by the end of this century.

The judge on Thursday reserved — or delayed — a decision to give it more consideration as an interpretation that could be interpreted as a court taking the matter seriously.

The case was first registered in May But a court refused to hear it on several grounds, including the question of whether a UK court has any influence on the lives of people in other countries.

Three activists – Adetola Stephanie Onamed, Marina Trix and Jerry Amokwandoh, who are all in their 20s – and the charity Plan B Earth are trying to challenge that whole concept. The activists have Nigerian and Trinidadian, Mexican and Ghanaian heritage, respectively, and believe that historical emitters have a duty of care to people in the global South, such as their relatives.

,[The previous court] rejected the idea that our family life includes our family around the world, or our family back home,” Amokwandoh told CNN ahead of Thursday’s decision. “And they were saying that your family only extends to the British Isles.” may be limited. It’s a colonial mindset.”

Trixie said they are taking specific targets on fossil fuel projects in the pipeline, including a proposed coal mine in northwest England that is under review, and oil exploration in the North Sea.

“We are ultimately being screwed by the system, by this government, by its funding of the climate crisis,” Trixie said. “It is actively funding evacuation projects that are contaminating our land, our water and our air.”

A UK government spokesman said: “We do not comment on the ongoing legal proceedings.”

This kind of litigation will have to get used to the UK government and many people around the world. In a separate case, several activists backed by a group called Paid to Pollute, will take Johnson’s administration to the High Court on December 8 to block the flow of state funds into 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 committed the world to trying to limit global warming to 2°C, but preferably 1.5. It said most of the money was given in tax relief for new oil and gas exploration and production.

Globally, the number of legal cases related to climate change has more than doubled since 2015, according to the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. According to its latest report published in July, just over 800 cases were registered between 1986 and 2014, but more than 1,000 cases have been brought in since the Paris Agreement was signed.

Katherine Higham, coordinator of the Climate Change Laws of the World Program at the Grantham Research Institute, said: “We are seeing a lot of groups using the courts and trying to advance climate action where political processes can be frustrating. Is.”

He said these cases are bringing about a kind of “interaction” between court decisions and politics. in a case Brought to the country’s Constitutional Court by German youth in AprilFor example, the court ruled that the government needed to boost its climate plans in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. That legal ruling sparked further political debate over the climate, and the government promoted its plans beyond a court order.

“We see litigants using the courts to try and advance climate action, but also as a tool to push the boundaries of political debate,” she said.

And major fossil fuel companies are also being targeted by litigation. A Dutch court in The Hague made a Historic verdict against oil giant Shell in May, must be in line with the Paris Agreement, ordering the company to reduce its emissions by 45% from 2019 levels by 2030. Shell is appealing the decision.

That decision could be truly transformative. It would be very difficult for a company like Shell to reduce its emissions by 45% without converting a good deal of its oil to renewable or low-emission energy sources.

While countries fight over who should pay for the climate crisis, a community on the island of Lagos is being swallowed by the sea

Highham says the decision could pave the way for similar court rulings against other major emitters. A similar case against French oil company Total is being heard in France.

“One of the ways Shell’s case differs from the others is that instead of looking at compensation, the court made a forward-looking order about what Shell needed to do — a declaration that what Shell is currently doing is inadequate.” is,” she said. said.

“While we cannot say how other cases, such as the one against Total, will ultimately end, there is a high probability that the cases will result in similar decisions against many other companies, or at least, many more. The actions will build on the foundation provided by the Shell case.”

Science finally has its say in court

Climate scientists have long been sad The vast difference between science and political action. But for a long time, he was also largely excluded from another sphere of power—the court system.

Today, courts are increasingly considering science in their climate-related decisions, according to Bill Hare, a senior scientist and CEO at the think tank Climate Analytics.

“The courts are looking at what the science is saying, they are given more and more weight to the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),” said Hare, the landmark joint published every six to seven years. Referring to the National Climate Science Report. The most recent was published in August amid a wave of extreme weather events in the Northern Hemisphere.

“According to the IPCC science, there is still a huge gap between what countries are leading and what is required in terms of emissions pledges, so that’s another dimension that the courts will look at,” Hare said.

“I think this is something that is going to put a lot of testing on governments. We’ve seen it in the last 12 to 24 months and it can only increase.”

Climate scientists are increasingly being called upon to share their expertise in courts of law, and as they are able to make clear links between countries and companies’ emissions and their impacts – such as heatwaves or wildfires – Large emitters have less room to hide. This is happening in cross-border cases as well.

An example is the case of an Austrian activist group called AllRise against the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro. The group is petitioning the International Criminal Court to hear the case, in which they say Bolsonaro’s policies for rapid deforestation of the Amazon released emissions that contributed to climate change, causing deaths and real damage and People’s livelihood was damaged.

Scientists were able to estimate how much carbon dioxide and methane were emitted by those policies and found that it accounts for about 1% of the world’s global greenhouse gases each year. This is roughly the same as the UK’s total emissions, he wrote in an expert presenting the matter.

Brazil's Bolsonaro accuses Amazon of crimes against humanity at ICC for his record

They also found that the amount emitted would cause more than 180,000 heat-related deaths globally before 2100. Even if there are substantial reductions in global emissions.

“Climate change kills people. And Bolsonaro’s politics not only increase emissions, they increase the intensity of heatwaves, and it affects the lives of people around the world, and of course, at the local level, it destroying livelihoods,” said Friedrich Otto. Imperial College of London’s Grantham Institute, who were among the scientists behind the written submissions for 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 scientists that uses modeling and data analysis to estimate how much climate change contributed to an extreme weather event.

Historic Northwest heat wave 'virtually impossible' without human-caused climate crisis, study finds

This type of science is useful in cases of tort law, when a court is required to assess a civil wrong that has caused harm or damage.

“I think it’s important in the Bolsonaro example as well, because you can’t hide behind generics anymore,” Otto said. “It’s not some obscure future generation that will suffer. It’s solid people here who are losing their livelihoods and solid dollars that someone had to pay for.”

The Bolsonaro case is truly unique because climate issues are difficult to litigate internationally. For example, there is no dedicated international court for climate crimes, and even the ICC has its own limitations. It may be constrained by its own power politics and some countries have refused to cooperate in matters that implicate them.

ClientEarth, a non-profit organization that provides legal services and advice on climate matters, has had several successes, including a 2020 case that led to Poland halting coal plant construction.

Sophie Marjanac, a lawyer for the group, told CNN that COP26’s failure to establish a plan to pay compensation for climate impacts was “nothing short of a betrayal.”

“Climate change is inherently uneven: its effects – such as drought, summer floods, and rising seas – are felt in the least responsible countries. This is clearly a human rights issue,” she said.

“When governments do not act, litigation will increasingly be used to hold them accountable.”