Combating Climate Change: International Climate Litigation


On May 26, 2011, EGA and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund co-hosted an event that brought together funders, leading environmental lawyers, and NGO representatives to discuss a new approach towards taking action on climate change: litigation. Possible solutions are to use existing state to state strategies in which one country can sue another for damages by climate change (i.e. Article 14 of the UNFCCC or the dispute mechanism of UNCLOS). Another is for climate change to be heard in human rights cases in which the rights of affected populations are being threatened (i.e. threats to freshwater in the Americas or indigenous rights like the Inuit). Lastly, climate change issues can be further used in claims made in both US and EU courts (i.e. Micronesia vs. Czech Republic).

The ultimate goal is to effect policy changes and further energize the climate movement by exposing and publicizing efforts made towards mitigating and/or adapting to climate change. Some challenges from using international litigation are that decisions are not always binding for countries or individuals under UNFCCC or UNCLOS and actions are under consent. Often times, international bodies such as UNCLOS and the ICJ (International Court of Justice) have long processes in order to get two countries to even reach an agreement in a case, again, not always binding.  In addition, it is very difficult to find plaintiffs for cases; how does one make a case against large, powerful industrial states that dictate trade and aid relations? Antonio Oposa, an international environmental lawyer, advocates that children should be used more as plaintiffs because they are the ones that will have to inherit the changed earth. The effects of climate change are becoming more apparent, as there has been increase in human rights cases and coastal and island countries’ economies are being threatened.  Climate change litigation may prove to be a very effective action tool.

Information for Foundations

  1. Using environmental law to take action towards climate change is still a very new and developing field. Current opportunities for Foundations include and are not limited to:
  2. Fund campaigns around climate change cases. It is often very difficult for lawyers to be campaigners themselves, especially when court orders restrain them from being able to publicly share information about such cases.
  3. Build capacity and support NGOs and other organizations that have a litigation department. Examples include Greenpeace International, Earthjustice, and Earth Rights International.
  4. Back research and fact-finding initiatives in order to build cases.
  5. Support and help to create a network amongst international environmental lawyers, other legal bodies, communities, NGOs, and members in different governmental levels to open communication, support and strengthen one another, and coordinate efforts.