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Politicians fail to do climate justice. Lawyers and scientists could do it in court

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It was a simple but strong message: while negotiators made deals to delay action, Pacific island nations like Tuvalu are sinking into the sea and could swallow completely as soon as the end of this year. century.

But the three activists, Adetola Stephanie Onamade, Marina Tricks and Jerry Amokwandoh, who are in their twenties, and the charity Plan B Earth are trying to challenge this whole concept. Activists have Nigerian and Trinitarian, Mexican and Ghanaian heritage, respectively, and believe that historical broadcasters have a duty to care for people, like their families, in the global South.

“[The court] he rejected the idea that our family life would include our family around the world, or our family at home, “Amokwandoh told CNN.” And they said your family can only be limited to the British Isles. It’s a colonial mentality. “

Tricks said they have a particular focus on fossil fuel projects at the pipeline, including a proposed coal mine in the north-west of England, which is under review, and oil exploration in the North Sea.

“Ultimately, the system, this government, is sinking us because of its climate crisis funding,” Tricks said.

“It is actively funding extractivist projects that are polluting our land, our waters and our air.”

Johnson and Kwarteng’s offices did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on the case and the claims. The treasury directed CNN to the Kwarteng office.

As countries fight over who should pay for the climate crisis, a community on Lagos Island is being swallowed up by the sea

This type of litigation is something the UK government, and many around the world, will have to get used to. In a separate case, a number of activists backed by a group called Paid to Pollute will take the Johnson administration to the High Court on Dec. 8 to block state money flowing into new fossil fuel projects. The group points to billions of pounds that the UK government has spent on oil and gas subsidies since the Paris Agreement in 2015, which pledged the world to try to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius , but preferably 1.5.

Globally, the number of legal cases related to climate change has more than doubled since 2015, according to the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. Just over 800 cases were filed between 1986 and 2014, but more than 1,000 have been filed since the year the Paris Agreement was signed, according to its latest report released in July.

“We are seeing that many groups are using the courts to try to advance climate action where there may be frustrations with political processes,” said Catherine Higham, coordinator of the Grantham Research Institute’s Climate Change Laws of the World program.

The cases carried a kind of “interaction” between court rulings and politics, he said. In one case brought by young Germans to the country’s Constitutional Court in April, for example, the court ruled that the government should push its climate plans to be in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. This legal decision sparked more political debate over the climate and the government ended up pushing its plans beyond the court order.

“We see plaintiffs using the courts to try to advance climate action, but also as a tool to push the boundaries of political debate,” he said.

A Shell fuel tanker truck at an oil refinery in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
And major fossil fuel companies are also being sued. A Dutch court in The Hague made one historic ruling against oil giant Shell in May, ordering the company to reduce its emissions by 45% by 2030, from 2019 levels, to be in line with the Paris Agreement. Shell appeals the decision.

This sentence could be really transformative. It would be very difficult for a company like Shell to reduce its emissions by 45% without making the transition from much of its oil to renewable or low-emission energy sources.

Higham says the decision could pave the way for similar court rulings against other major issuers. A similar case against the French oil giant Total is being heard in France.

“One of the ways Shell’s case differs from the others is that instead of looking at compensation, the court gave a prospective order on what Shell should do: a statement that what Shell is currently doing is insufficient.” he said. dit.

“While we can’t say how other cases will end, like the Total counter, ultimately, there’s a high chance that these cases will result in similar lawsuits against many other companies, or at least, that there will be many more actions. on the basis provided by the Shell case “.

Science finally has its say in the courts

Climate scientists have long lamented the great gap between science and political action. But for a long time, they were also largely excluded from another realm of power: the judicial system.

Today, courts are increasingly taking science into account in their climate-related decisions, according to Bill Hare, a senior scientist and CEO of the think tank Climate Analytics.

“Courts are looking at what science says, and more and more weight is being given to the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),” Hare said, referring to the climate science report of the UN that is published every six or seven years. . The most recent was released in August amid a wave of extreme weather events in the northern hemisphere.

“There is still a big gap between what countries present in terms of emissions promises and what is needed, according to IPCC science, so this is another dimension of what the courts will study,” he said. said Hare.

“I think this will be very proven for governments. We’ve already seen it in the last 12 or 24 months and it can only grow.”

Climate scientists are increasingly being asked to share their experience in the courts and as they improve in order to establish clear links between countries’ emissions and companies and their impacts, such as heat waves or forest fires. , large emitters have less space to hide. This happens even in cross-border cases.

An example is a case of a group of Austrian activists called AllRise against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. The group is asking the International Criminal Court to hear the case, in which they say that Bolsonaro’s policies that allowed the rapid deforestation of the Amazon released emissions that contributed to climate change, causing actual deaths and losses and damage to people’s livelihoods.

Scientists were able to make an estimate of the amount of carbon dioxide and methane emitted by these policies and found that it accounted for about 1% of the world’s greenhouse gases each year. This is roughly the same as total UK emissions, they wrote in an expert presentation on the case.

Brazilian Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity at the ICC for his history in the Amazon

They also found that the amount emitted would cause more than 180,000 excess heat-related deaths worldwide by 2100. This is even if global emissions are substantially reduced.

“Climate change is killing people. And Bolsonaro’s policy not only increases emissions, but increases the intensity of heat waves, and that affects people’s lives all over the world and, of course, locally, it is destroying livelihoods, ”said Friederike Otto of The Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, who was among the scientists behind the written presentation of the case.

“This kind of environmental destruction, at this level, you should count as a crime against humanity because it destroys livelihoods on a large scale.”

The Bolsonaro administration did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Otto also leads the World Weather Attribution project, which is a group of scientists who use modeling and data analysis to estimate how much climate change contributed to an extreme weather event.

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This type of science is useful in injury law cases, when a court needs to assess a civil error that has caused loss or damage.

“I think it’s also important in Bolsonaro’s example, because you can no longer hide behind generics,” Otto said. “It’s not a vague future generation that’s going to suffer. It’s specific people here who are losing their specific livelihoods and money that someone had to pay.”

The Bolsonaro case is truly unique because litigation internationally over climate issues is difficult. There is no international tribunal dedicated to climate crime, for example, and even the ICC has its limitations. It may be restricted by its own power policy and some countries have refused to cooperate in cases involving them.

ClientEarth, a non-profit organization that provides legal services and advice on climate cases, has had several successes, including a 2020 case that led Poland to stop construction of a coal plant.

The group’s lawyer, Sophie Marjanac, told CNN that the fact that COP26 did not establish a scheme to pay compensation for climate impacts was “no less than a betrayal.”

“Climate change is inherently uneven: its impacts, such as droughts, heat waves, floods and rising seas, are felt more in less responsible countries. This is clearly a human rights issue.” he said.

“When governments fail to take action, litigation will increasingly be used to hold them accountable.”

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