When you hear the term climate activism, what you probably think of is this. But what if I told you that some of the biggest victories in recent climate activism actually looked like this?
"landmark ruling from the country's constitutional court." "This was a brutal day for Big Oil." "The lawsuit was brought by several environmental groups.
"The French state is liable for inaction on climate change." People all over the world are suing governments and corporations over climate change.
And they're winning. "This case has real impacts." "We tend to see a bit of a snowball effect with these types of claims.
" So should activists roll up their protest banners and put on their robes instead? Let's take a look at how effective climate litigation really is. This guy made legal history. Asghar Leghari is a lawyer from Pakistan. Like many other developing countries, it is being hit particularly hard by climate change.
People there are already experiencing torrential rainfall, floods and droughts amongst other things. And this is bound to get worse. "Because our government was really just not ready to even deal with climate change as an issue. Most people within the government machinery didn't really understand climate change as a concept." And so in 2015, he filed a petition with a revolutionary argument.
It said the government wasn't doing enough to protect its citizens from the effects of climate change and in doing so, was violating their human rights. "I never realised or even sort of expected that it would get as big as it did. It was to a large extent an arrow in the dark." But that arrow really hit its target. The high court agreed with him and his team and ordered the government to step up action.
And it set up a supervisory committee to ensure that happens. This was a real breakthrough. "It's one of the early cases using human rights arguments and using them very successfully to convince the court that they do have the jurisdiction and that it is within their power to intervene." Catherine Highamisthe co-author of a major report on climate litigation.
While all this was going on in Pakistan, another case made headlines.
Environmental group Urgenda was suing the Dutch government with a very similar argument. They said by not lowering emissions faster, it would endanger people's lives in the future. The case went all the way to the country's Supreme Court. It eventually up held the decision that by 2020 the government should cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% below 1990 levels. "Another sort of critical issue in the case was about whether or not the Netherlands, as a country that contributed a relatively small proportion of global greenhouse gases, should nonetheless be doing everything in their power to reduce emissions.
And the court said, yes, this is not something where you can pass the buck to somebody else. You have to act." And so the Dutch government had to up its game on climate change. It, for example, switched off one of its coal-fired power plants straight away and reduced the output of others. Also, it provided billions of euros in subsidies for renewable energies.
The court said the Dutch state must protect its citizens' human rights, more specifically the right to life and the right to respect for private and family life. But wait a second. How are these connected to climate change? Well, let me give you two examples. Extreme heatwaves already claim lives every year.
So just sitting back and doing nothing to stop temperatures from going up even further would breach people's right to life. Or take rising sea levels. Hundreds of millions of people living on islands or in coastal regions might lose their homes in the near future. This breaches their right to respect for private and family life.
"In both contributing to climate change by investing in fossil fuel infrastructure or sub siding fossil fuel companies and by failing to regulate the activities of others, so allowing big polluting entities to keep polluting, governments are failing in that responsibility to protect their citizens from the human rights harms that come with climate change.
" Asghar Leghari and Urgenda relied on human rights as the central argument in their cases. And in doing so, they really pushed open the door for cases in other countries. In Germany, for example, activists took the government to court over its climate action plan and won. Germany now has to cut emissions a lot faster. And in Australia, a court ruled the environment minister has a duty of care for young people when, for example, deciding on whether to approve coal mine expansion plans.
On the international stage, a group of young people including Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is making waves. They filed a petition with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child against Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey. It's saying that these five countries' inaction on climate change violates their rights as children.
"You know, I'm not driving a car. I'm not owning a factory.
" Ridhima Pandey, a13-year-old climate activist from India, is one of them. "It's just like, you know, I'm not the one emitting the most, but still I'm the one being affected the most right now. And, you know, I'm going to be the most affected in the future as well." At the moment it's not clear whether the case will actually go ahead. Some of the countries are saying they're only responsible for protecting their own citizens from climate change.
The young plaintiffs are saying that's not true, because greenhouse gases emitted in one place will eventually affect people everywhere.
"I'm clearly hoping that they would take up our case as fast as they can because everyone knows that we don't have much time." Human rights are universal. Which is why it's very likely that we'll see a lot more of these cases in the future. And, actually, not just against governments.
"A Dutch court has found that Shell has a legal responsibility for climate change." "Shell will have to cut their emissions." "a landmark decision with far-reaching implications for environmental policy worldwide." In May 2021, Dutch environmental group. Milieudefensie celebrated a huge victory against the. oil and gas company Shell, one of the top 10 climate polluting companies in the world. "The court effectively held that Shell's climate policy was so poor as to be unlawful.
That's groundbreaking." Paul Bensonisa lawyer atClientEarth, an environmental law NGO. The court ordered Shell, which says it will appeal, to cut its emissions by 45% by the end of the decade. "It's the first time that a corporate group has been ordered to, in essence, comply with the goals of the Paris agreement." The court called Shell's current climate policy "intangible, undefined and non-binding" and said the company was, therefore, in danger of violating its duty of care.
The grounds were, once again, human rights. "And. what the court is saying there is that the interests that are served by its decision, i.e.fundamental protections for people on this planet, the protection of the climate those interests outweigh Shell's commercial interests." Fossil-fuel companies around the world are probably lawyering upright now.
It's very likely there will be more cases like this before other courts, against other companies. And going down the human rights route is not the only way to sue corporations for what they're doing.
In 2018, the Polish energy company Enea was planning to build one of Europe's last huge coal plants. This would of course have been very bad for the climate. But not only that.
"Investors in particular, and the market had concern that the plant would not be economically viable." Fossil fuel is increasingly bad business. It is being regulated more and more and, actually, it's now frequently more expensive than renewable energy. There is a financial case against coal. And the folks at ClientEarth had the clever idea touse thatto their advantage.
"We bought shares in the company. And in that capacity as a shareholder, we were able to bring a claim before the Polish courts." They said the new coal plant was a bad use of their money and the regional court agreed with that.
It's topped the coal plant from being built. So what's clear is that the battle against climate change is now being waged in courtrooms all over the world and that battle is going pretty well.
Does this mean that climate litigation will save the world? Or is it just another piece of the puzzle? "Climate litigation is an incredibly powerful tool." "If your legal thing works out, it can bring up bigger change, even bigger than what we are trying to bring from doing all these protests." "Convincing the parliament is hard, convincing a. single judge is easy.
" "Climate litigation has to be one part of the solution to the climate crisis. I don't think it's the only solution to the climate crisis. Litigation is lengthy. It's resource-intensive. It's emotionally quite draining for the people involved.
" "It's certainly one of the most significant levers that can be pulled.
But there are many, many levers that can be pulled to effect the change that is necessary. And those come from science, from policy and from activism." So what is better? Fighting climate change on the street or in the courtroom or both?