Remember when people began suing Big Tobacco and won?
Well, in a new report, Climate Justice Programme claims that climate litigation—where an existing law is applied to the global problem of climate change—“could dwarf previous experiences in tobacco, asbestos and oil spill litigation.”
The report, published yesterday (June 21) by the Australia-based nongovernmental organization, lists more than a dozen lawsuits from around the globe, including the few recent U.S. examples.
The latest is the United States’ multistate investigation into ExxonMobil. In a September 2015 series, InsideClimateNews reports that the oil giant has funded fraudulent climate-denial campaigns even though its scientists knew of the global issue since at least the 1970s. (ExxonMobil denies these claims.) Seventeen state attorney generals have teamed up on the investigation since March, and they are gathering in Burlington, Vermont, for the annual National Association of Attorneys General Summer Meeting. Local conservation groups and state government have already sued the corporation.
Governments are the plaintiffs in the ExxonMobil case, but, in others, they are defendants. Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based group, has been partnering with kids, some Native American and as young as 8, in Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Oregon to challenge their governors, state departments—and even President Barack Obama—on inadequate emission standards.
In the Oregon case, Kelsey Cascade Rose Juliana et al. v. The United States of America et al., a federal district court judge ruled in favor of its 21 young plaintiffs, affirming that the United States has violated their “fundamental constitutional rights to life, liberty and property.”
“The government has known for decades that carbon dioxide has been causing catastrophic climate change and has failed to take necessary action to curtail fossil fuel emissions,” reads the Oregon ruling filed in April.
The Climate Justice Programme report goes on to explain that the number of climate lawsuits by private citizens is likely to increase as they become “dissatisfied with government action and inaction.”
Read the full report here.