Courts Will See More Action Over Climate Change

Wired has two pieces today (from the Climate Desk collaborative project) highlighting the slow, but steady, movement of court cases related to harms alleged to be the result of climate change.  Not all of them end in judgment for the plaintiff, many are still working their way through the courts.  However, the mere existence of these cases may be sufficient incentive for more, particularly when elected officials are known for inaction on the issue.

In some instances the cases are international in scope, where legal principles aren’t necessarily universal, but are perhaps better established than corresponding global legislative or regulatory powers.  In other cases the issue is not finding victory in the courts, but in prompting action.  The small island nations and coastal villages seeking redress really won’t care how their harms are addressed, as long as they are.

An important point is that some cases aren’t looking for specific laws to sue under, but are initiating nuisance lawsuits – an action under common law that is acceptable in many countries that operate under common law principles.  You can hear Judge Peter Hall discuss the relevance of nuisance claims in environmental actions in this recent address at Georgetown Law.  His argument, as summarized in one of the Wired pieces, suggests that in the absence of regulatory action under relevant suits, some judges will find nuisance claims like those in State of Connecticut vs. American Electric Power a reasonable course of action.  This leaves the policy question to be whether it is preferable to try and actually do something or to leave it up to the judges.

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