Climate litigation - court-ordered damages against large-scale GHG emitters– has
been described by lawyers as a "holy grail” in the fight to mitigate climate change.
However, efforts have downplayed communications, political, and international
aspects of litigation risk and focused on existing U.S. law (where climate damages
claims have been filed). Consequently, litigation risks have not played a
significant role in business, investment or political decisions. We propose
broadening this focus through communications campaigns based on 3 legal pathways
that change current climate litigation risk narratives dramatically and ultimately
mitigate climate change by creating economic risks for GHG emitters:
1. There is a legal basis for lawsuits to be brought in countries where damages have
occurred, even against emitters from other countries. This gives control over GHGs
to countries that benefit least from the emissions, and increases uncertainty for
emitters about which laws might impact them.
2. There are existing laws related to the enforcement of debt between jurisdictions,
which could allow climate-related judgments from impacted countries to be enforced
in the U.S., E.U. or Canada.
3. As the damages from climate change become clearer there will be calls for
legislation to clarify and strengthen the rules for climate liability.
Why is the project important?
Both national and international efforts to control GHG emissions have framed the
issue as a political or moral choice, meaning that governments and industry in
countries with large GHG emissions profiles see little economic downside in choosing
not to act to control those emissions.
A communications strategy, informed by credible legal analysis, on the transnational
and political aspects of climate liability risk asserts a legal imperative (and
economic consequences for failing to act). It (a) greatly enhances real and
perceived economic risks faced by emitters and investors; (b) creates possibilities
for campaigns by non-lawyers aimed at creating and enhancing risks; and (c) empowers
climate-impacted countries and their public.