Skip to main content

The year 2023 has marked a significant surge in climate litigation, with over 200 new cases filed against governments and corporations, according to a new report by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Authored by Joana Setzer and Catherine Higham, the “Global Trends in Climate Litigation: 2024 Snapshot” provides an in-depth analysis of the evolving landscape of climate-related legal actions.

The Rising Tide of Climate Cases

More than 230 cases were filed in 2023. The United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, and Germany have emerged as the frontrunners in the number of recent lawsuits. In total more than 2,600 climate cases have been filed in over 50 countries. Notably, 70% of these cases have been initiated post-2015, following the Paris Agreement. 

Governments in the Crosshairs

Significant legal victories against governments in the past year include the Swiss Senior Women’s case, the Montana case in the US and the Candian youth’s case against Ontario. These landmark cases have set crucial precedents for more ambitious climate action. The success of these cases underscores the judiciary’s growing role in enforcing climate commitments and pressuring governments to enhance their climate policies.

Corporate Accountability Intensifies

The report highlights a marked increase in climate litigation targeting corporations. These lawsuits are diverse, ranging from seeking damages for climate impacts and blocking new oil and gas developments to challenging inadequate corporate transition plans away from fossil fuels. Notably, over 70% of “climate-washing” cases—where companies’ green claims and climate commitments are scrutinized—have been successful. In 2023 alone, 47 new climate-washing cases were filed, reflecting a growing skepticism about corporate environmental claims.

A New Frontier: Transition risks 

A novel and emerging trend identified in the report is the emergence of transition risk cases- targeting directors and officers for their management of climate risks. Cases like ClientEarth vs Shell Board of Directors and ClientEarth vs Enea are pioneering this new category of litigation. With 17 such cases filed in 2023, this trend is expected to gain momentum as courts begin delivering their rulings, potentially reshaping corporate governance norms concerning climate risk management.

Backlash Against Climate Action

Interestingly, the report also notes a rise in cases against climate action. In 2023, 50 such cases were filed, representing a backlash against environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives. These lawsuits often target NGOs and shareholder activists, highlighting the contentious and polarized nature of climate discourse in the legal arena.

A Global Perspective: The Global South and International Courts

Currently more than 200 climate cases are recorded in the database. A recent unprecedented victory in India established a new constitutional right to be free from the adverse effects of climate change in the M.K. Ranjitsinh and Others v. Union of India case.

Additionally, international courts are playing an increasingly pivotal role. Advisory opinions from bodies like the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the European Court of Human Rights, and upcoming opinions from the International Court of Justice and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights are expected to lay strong foundations for future litigation.

Looking Ahead: Emerging Trends

Researchers anticipate several emerging trends in climate litigation:

  • An increase in cases focusing on the mismanagement of climate-related disaster responses.
  • The application of criminal law in the context of climate change.
  • Growing litigation in the Global South, driving global momentum for climate justice.

As the legal landscape continues to evolve, the “Global Trends in Climate Litigation: 2024 Snapshot” serves as a critical resource for understanding the dynamics of climate litigation.