The CCCEP (The Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy) and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment have recently partnered to explore the developments globally relating to climate change litigation. The fifth edition of their study finds that the number of litigation cases is growing, with the researchers warning that the types of cases, and the industries they are impacting, are diversifying.
One of the major trends seen from CCCEP and the Grantham Research Institute’s work is the changing pattern in where these cases originate and the actors they target. Of the 2,341 climate litigation cases recorded worldwide by the researchers, the majority have been filed in the United States. However, this is changing- in the past year, cases from 7 new jurisdictions have been recorded, bringing the total number of countries with climate litigation cases to at least 51.
Further, there is a shift in who is being targeted: In cases filed outside of the US, there has been a decline in the proportion of those lodged against governments. In the last 12 months, roughly 54% of cases filed were targeting this group, whereas previously, this made up 70% of cases. Instead, strategic litigation against companies continues to increase, with cases targeting corporate actors from a growing range of sectors. Almost all (90%) of the cases filed since June 2022 outside the US have been brought by NGOs (non-governmental organisations), individuals, or both, and in
The most recent iteration of the study, which covered the period of June 2022- May 2023, found that over 190 cases focussed around so-termed ‘climate-washing’ were filed in the past 12 months, with 26 of these making it into court. It represents an uptick in cases seen over the past 2 years, where a total of 81 climate-washing cases were heard in court between 2015 and 2022- Of these, 53, or more than half, were filed in the past 24 months, compared with just 9 cases in 2020 and 6 cases in 2019[i].
These cases include challenging the truthfulness of corporate climate commitments, as well as targeting instances where there has been overstating of investments in, or support for, climate action. It also considers the obscuring of climate risks and challenges to the accuracy of product attributes and environmental claims- observed to be the largest group in the past 12 months due to a substantial uptick in claims made in Germany.
Report authors Dr Joana Setzer and Kate Higham have said: “Cases concerned with mis- and disinformation on climate change are far from new, but the last few years have seen an explosion of ‘climate-washing’ cases filed before both courts and administrative bodies such as consumer protection agencies. One of the most significant groups of climate-washing cases to emerge in recent years have been cases challenging the truthfulness of corporate climate commitments, particularly where these are not backed up by adequate plans and policies.” They added: “The growth in climate-washing cases reflects broader concerns with corporate accountability for climate pledges along with ongoing debates about the role of companies in climate decision-making”[ii].
The report warns that non-disclosure is set to become an increasingly material risk for businesses, and it is critical that companies address issues now. The research notes the introduction of new legislation to tackle greenwashing- such as the EU Directive on Green Claims. The EU’s directive, of which the first draft was launched in April this year, will provide explanation and guidance as to what counts as greenwashing within specific sectors. In addition, it contains a proposal for businesses to be required to be able to prove their environmental claims with scientific evidence; this includes claims surrounding the use of recycled plastic content in packaging and products, as well as the carbon impact of products and services. The commission argues action is required, citing its research from 2020, which found that 53.3% of EU environmental claims were seen to be vague, misleading or unfounded, and concerningly 40% were unsubstantiated[iii]. The proposal will apply across a broad range of industries to cover all manner of goods and services, ultimately though it will be the job of each EU member state to impose “proportionate” penalties- these will include fines. Of course, this opens the door for the disparity between nations concerning how heavy-handed they are, both in enforcing these proposed rules and in the levels of punishment handed out.
Lauren has extensive experience as an analyst and market researcher in the digital technology and travel sectors. She has a background in researching and forecasting emerging technologies, with a particular passion for the Videogames and eSports industries. She joined the Critical Information Group as Head of Reports and Market Research at GRC World Forums, and leads the content and data research team at the Zero Carbon Academy. “What drew me to the academy is the opportunity to add content and commentary around sustainability across a wealth of industries and sectors.”