What is climate litigation?

Litigation has long been an important tool to force companies and governments to act on environmental matters and to hold them to account, and climate change is no exception.

Over the past few years the number of lawsuits filed by legal groups, campaigners and individuals to try to compel action on climate change has exploded, with thousands of cases all over the world. The number of climate change-related litigation lawsuits around the world has more than doubled since 2015.

Most of those lawsuits challenge state inaction, many inspired by the landmark 2019 ruling that ordered the Dutch government to cut its emissions.

But climate change is now also cropping up in commercial, planning, tort, contract and trust law, human rights cases and administrative law such as judicial review.

As well as lawsuits against governments, the world’s most polluting companies are increasingly being targeted for their inaction on climate change and attempts to spread misinformation. Research by the London School of Economics Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in 2022 found a surge in legal cases against the fossil fuel industry over the past year – especially outside the US – and growing action in other corporate sectors.

Although the fossil fuel industry is mostly in the spotlight, the food and agriculture, transport, plastics and finance sectors are increasingly targets as well.

Many of these cases attempt to tackle greenwashing.

Climate litigation has proved an effective strategy for boosting climate action. It was identified in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report as one of several important new avenues through which climate policy is being shaped around the world.