Climate lawsuits are breaking new legal ground to protect the planet

Climate lawsuits are breaking new legal ground to protect the planet

Twenty-year-old Nathan Baring is a third-generation Alaskan. Within his lifetime, he has seen winters shorten, cod fisheries collapse and cultural traditions suffer. He grieves for an Arctic that is disappearing before his eyes. “There is a very distinct loss of place here,” he says. Baring decided to take action.

Despite recent defeats, activists are optimistic that courts will provide relief from climate change.

On 18 February, the International Bar Association released a model for how to litigate climate change, laying out legal arguments and precedents that might help future plaintiffs. What is likely to succeed seems to vary around the world, however — and as plaintiffs learn from their experiences in the courts, they are adjusting their tactics. The Heathrow case is the first major ruling based on the Paris agreement and could spur more suits that rely on those obligations. In other parts of the world, plaintiffs are increasingly focusing on seeking damages from polluters themselves.

Although the recent ruling in Juliana was disappointing for plaintiffs, they say that they are heartened by the court’s finding that they had been harmed by the government’s inaction on climate change. They are currently preparing to appeal the ruling, and are still optimistic about getting a chance to argue their case in front of a jury. “We have many paths forward,” Baring says. “This is certainly not the end of the road for us.”

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