Climate change: Politicians are failing to bring to justice. Lawyers and scientists can do it in court

It’s a simple but powerful message – while negotiators hammer out deals to delay action, Pacific island nations like Tuvalu are drowning in rising seas and could be completely swallowed up. immediately after the end of this century.

A campaign poster shows climate activists, from left, Marina Tricks, Adetola Stephanie Onamade and Jerry Amokwandoh, who are trying to sue the UK government.

But three activists – Adetola Stephanie Onamade, Marina Tricks and Jerry Amokwandoh, 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, and believe that history emitters have a duty to take care of people, such as their loved ones, in the Global South.

“[The court] Amokwandoh told CNN that our home life includes our families around the world or our families back home. It is a colonial mindset. “

Tricks said it is specifically targeting fossil fuel projects in the pipeline, including a proposed coal mine in north-west England that is under consideration and oil exploration in the North Sea.

“We ended up getting messed up by this system, this government, because of its funding of the climate crisis,” said Tricks.

“It is actively funding exotic projects that are polluting our lands, our seas and our air.”

Johnson and Kwarteng’s office did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on the incident and the claims. Treasury directed CNN to Kwarteng’s office.

While nations argue over who should pay for the climate crisis, one Lagos island community is being swallowed up by the sea

This type of litigation is something that the UK government and many people around the world will have to get used to. In a separate case, some activists backed by a group called Paid to Pollute will take Johnson’s administration to the Supreme Court on December 8 to block the flow of state money into projects. new fossil fuels. The group points to the billions of pounds the UK government has spent on oil and gas subsidies since the 2015 Paris Agreement, which pledged the world would try to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. , but preferably 1.5.

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

“We are seeing more groups using the courts to try and drive climate action, where there are climate change action,” said Catherine Higham, coordinator of the World Climate Change Law program at the Grantham Research Institute. can frustrate political processes.

The cases offer a kind of “interaction” between court rulings and politics, she said. In one case taken by young Germans to the country’s Constitutional Court in AprilFor example, the court has ruled that the government needs to advance climate plans to align with the goals of the Paris Agreement. That legal decision opened up more political debates about climate, and the government ultimately pushed its plans beyond the court order.

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

A Shell fuel tanker at the oil refinery in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
And major fossil fuel companies are also being targeted by lawsuits. A Dutch court in The Hague made a landmark ruling against oil giant Shell in May, which requires the company to cut emissions by 45% by 2030, compared with 2019 levels, to align with the Paris Agreement. Shell is appealing the decision.

That ruling could be truly transformative. It would be difficult for a company like Shell to reduce emissions by 45% without shifting more oil to renewable or low-emission 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 also being heard in France.

“One of the ways the Shell case is different from the others is that instead of looking at compensation, the court has issued a forward-looking order about what Shell needs to do – a statement that what Shell does doing is not enough,” she said.

“While we cannot say how other cases, like the case against Total, will ultimately conclude, there is a strong possibility that those cases will lead to similar rulings against many companies. another company, or at least, there will be many more actions that build on the foundation provided by the shell case.”

Science finally has a say in court

Climate scientists have long complained There is a huge gap between science and political action. But for a long time they were also largely excluded from another arena of power – the court system.

Today, courts increasingly consider science in their climate-related rulings, according to Bill Hare, a senior scientist and CEO of the think tank Climate Analytics.

“The courts are looking at what the science is saying, they’re giving more and more weight to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports,” Hare said, referring to the paper. The United Nations’ landmark climate science report is published every six to seven years. . The most recent was published in August amid a wave of extreme weather events across the Northern Hemisphere.

“There’s still a huge gap between what countries are making about their emissions commitments and what’s needed, according to IPCC science, so that’s another aspect of the issue that governments have,” Hare said. the court will consider.

“I think it’s something that’s going to be tested a lot by governments. We’ve seen that in the last 12 to 24 months and it can only grow.”

Climate scientists are increasingly being called upon to share their expertise in the courts of law, and as they become better at making clear links between countries’ emissions. Families and companies and their impacts – like heat waves or wildfires – major emitters have less room to hide. This even happens in cross-border cases.

One example is the case of an Austrian activist group called AllRise against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. The group is petitioning the International Criminal Court to hear the case, in which they say Bolsonaro’s policies allowing rapid deforestation in the Amazon have released emissions that contribute to climate change, cause real death and damage to people’s livelihood.

The scientists were able to estimate the carbon dioxide and methane emissions from those policies and found that it accounts for about 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions each year. They wrote in an expert submission the case was equivalent to the UK’s total emissions.

Brazil's Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity at the ICC because of his Amazon profile

They also found that emissions will lead to more than 180,000 deaths from extreme heat globally by 2100. That’s even if global emissions are cut dramatically.

Friederike Otto from Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute, who is among the scientists behind the case submission.

“This kind of destruction of the environment, on such a scale, you should consider a crime against humanity because it destroys livelihoods on a massive scale.”

The Bolsonaro administration did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Otto also leads the World Weather Allocation project, a team of scientists that uses modeling and data analysis to estimate how climate change has contributed to extreme weather events.

Historic heat wave in the Northwest & # 39;  almost impossible & # 39;  no human-caused climate crisis, study finds

This type of science is useful in tort law cases, when a court needs to hear a civil wrongful case that results in loss or damage.

“I think it’s also very important in the Bolsonaro example, because you can’t hide behind generics anymore,” says Otto. “It’s not some obscure future generation that’s going to suffer. It’s specific people here who are losing their livelihoods and the specific dollars that someone already has to pay.”

The Bolsonaro case is truly unique in that international litigation over climate issues is very difficult. For instance, there is no dedicated international court for climate crimes, and even the ICC has its limitations. It may be constrained by its power politics and some countries have refused to cooperate in cases involving them.

ClientEarth, a non-profit organization providing legal and consulting services in climate cases, has had a number of successes, including the 2020 case that resulted in Poland halting coal plant construction. .

A lawyer for the group, Sophie Marjanac, told CNN that COP26’s failure to establish a compensation payment plan for climate impacts was “nothing less than a betrayal.”

“Climate change is inherently unequal: its effects – such as droughts, floods caused by heat waves and sea level rise – are felt most in the countries least responsible. It’s clearly a human rights issue,” she said.

“When governments fail to act, litigation will increasingly be used to hold them accountable.”


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