•These findings show that climate litigation is becoming an integral part of securing climate action and justice.
•As climate litigation increases in frequency and volume, the body of legal precedent grows, forming an increasingly well-defined field of law.
The landmark case brought by the Ogiek community against the Kenya government is among the top climate change-related suits that the Unep listed globally last week.
The Ogiek first sued in 2012 after being routinely subjected to arbitrary forced evictions from their ancestral land without consultation or compensation.
On June 23, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights ordered Kenya to pay compensation to the Ogiek for the material and moral prejudice they suffered
According to the Gigiri-based UN Environment Programme, the total number of climate change court cases globally has more than doubled since 2017 and is growing worldwide.
These findings, published by the UNEP and the Sabin Centre for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, show that climate litigation is becoming an integral part of securing climate action and justice.
The report, Global Climate Litigation Report: 2023 Status Review, is based on a review of cases focused on climate change law, policy or science collected up to December 31, 2022 by the Sabin Centre’s US and Global Climate Change Litigation Databases. It was published during the first anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s declaration of access to a clean and healthy environment as a universal human right.
“Climate policies are far behind what is needed to keep global temperatures below the 1.5°C threshold, with extreme weather events and searing heat already baking our planet,” Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, said.
“People are increasingly turning to courts to combat the climate crisis, holding governments and the private sector accountable and making litigation a key mechanism for securing climate action and promoting climate justice.”
The report provides an overview of key climate litigation cases from the past two years, including historic breakthroughs. As climate litigation increases in frequency and volume, the body of legal precedent grows, forming an increasingly well-defined field of law.
The total number of climate change cases has more than doubled since a first report on the issue, from 884 in 2017 to 2,180 in 2022. While most cases have been brought in the US, climate litigation is taking root all over the world, with about 17 per cent of cases now being reported in developing countries, including Small Island Developing States.
These legal actions were brought in 65 agencies worldwide: in international, regional and national courts, tribunals, quasi-judicial bodies and other adjudicatory bodies, including special procedures of the UN and arbitration tribunals.
"There is a distressingly growing gap between the level of greenhouse gas reductions the world needs to achieve in order to meet its temperature targets, and the actions that governments are actually taking to lower emissions,"Michael Gerrard, Sabin Centres’s faculty director, said.
"This inevitably will lead more people to resort to the courts. This report will be an invaluable resource for everyone who wants to achieve the best possible outcome in judicial forums, and to understand what is and is not possible there.”
The report demonstrates how the voices of vulnerable groups are being heard globally: 34 cases have been brought by and on behalf of children and youth under 25 years old, including by girls as young as seven and nine years of age in Pakistan and India respectively, while in Switzerland, plaintiffs are making their case based on the disproportionate impact of climate change on senior women.
Notable cases have challenged government decisions based on a project’s inconsistency with the goals of the Paris Agreement or a country’s net-zero commitments. Growing awareness of climate change in recent years has also spurred action against corporations - these include cases seeking to hold fossil fuel companies and other greenhouse gas emitters responsible for climate harm.