On the 5th of April this year, Milieudefensie started a lawsuit against Shell. Dutch citizens could apply as co-plaintiffs and 17,379 people joined the case and are demanding that Shells stops wrecking the climate. The past years have seen a surge in legislation of this sort, from suing the government in the Netherlands in the historic Urgenda case where judges ordered the state to do more to protect the climate, to companies as RWE, a German energy company that are also taken to court in order to hold them accountable for the consequences of global warming. How did this global civil movement for climate justice evolve and where will it go next? After governments and companies, which other actors will be held accountable for climate change through court?
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One of the leading examples of such cases at the moment is the suing of oil company Shell by Milieudefensie, forcing the oil company to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero in 2050 by winding down its oil and gas activities, as only then global warming can be limited to 1,5 degrees.
Another high-profile case is the one lead by lawyer Roda Verheyen, who is representing Peruvian farmer Saúl Luciano Lliuya, suing German coal giant RWE for the damages done to Saúl’s hometown in the Andes as a result of a melting glacier. Verheyen is also known for, among other things, representing 10 families from across Europe in a lawsuit against the European institutions, regarding the threats climate change pose to their homes and livelihoods.
In 2015, Marie Toussaint founded Notre affaire à tous (in our common interest), an NGO to defend the right for climate justice. Together with, amongst others, Oxfam France, Greenpeace France and the Foundation for Nature and Man, they started a climate justice campaign in France to sue the state for its inaction in the fight against global warming. The associated petition became the most signed petition in France in less than a week, collecting 2 million signatories in a month.
The Urgenda Foundation case against the state of the Netherlands was the first of its kind. It successfully argued for the adoption of stricter emissions reduction targets by the government. It’s a landmark case which, since the initial decision in favor of Urgenda in 2015, has encouraged people from all over the world to take climate injustice to court. Dennis van Berkel is a climate change advocate who works on the Dutch Climate Case, together with 900 Dutch citizens.
Daphina Misiedjan is specialized in issues concerning human rights and the environment. She obtained her Ph.D. from Utrecht University where she also obtained her honors master degree in legal research from. Her dissertation is titled: Towards a Sustainable Human Right to Water. Because of the societal relevance and impact of this thesis, she was awarded the 2017 Agnites Vrolik Prize which included a research grant of E25.000,-. She is interested in Global South perspectives on environmental justice and new developments including the right to clean air and the recognition of legal personhood for Nature also known as Earth Jurisprudence or Wild Law. She currently teaches environmental law and law & ethics at the Hague University of Applied Sciences and in December will start as an assistant professor at the International Institute of Social Studies in the Hague.
Sam Hunter Jones is a lawyer who works with ClientEarth, an NGO that uses the law to protect the planet. After working as a commercial disputes lawyer at Freshfields, he joined ClientEarth to work on strategic litigation aimed at driving the transition to a low carbon economy and mitigating the damage caused by climate change.