Climate litigation cases continue to rise, as corporations taken to task on their green claims

2023 was another record year for climate litigation, with 230 new cases filed compared with 190 in the year prior. However, the rate of growth is slowing, with researchers suggesting a possible shift towards strategic litigation efforts.
July 2, 2024

New research has shown that climate litigation cases continue to rise year on year, with 2023 seeing a record 230 new cases filed, compared with 190 in 2022. The findings are contained in the sixth annual ‘Global Trends in Climate Litigation’ report, which was recently released by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change in collaboration with the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science[i].

The research was based on information collected by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, which has compiled a database of 2,666 climate litigation cases. Around 70% of the cases held in the database have been filed since 2015- the year the Paris Agreement was adopted- and more than two-thirds of these lawsuits have been filed since 2020.

The study found that despite the number of cases increasing, the rate of annual growth does appear to be slowing, something the researchers believe suggests “a consolidation and concentration of strategic litigation efforts in areas anticipated to have high impact”[ii]. Yet, “whether climate litigation is advancing or hindering climate action remains difficult to determine”. The researchers find that certain types of cases, such as government framework cases, have already had lasting impacts on domestic climate governance, they add that “the long-term implications of other case types, such as climate-washing cases, remain unclear, despite the relatively high levels of ‘successful’ cases in the courtroom.”[iii]

Climate-washing crackdown continues

In a similar trend to last year’s study, the number of ‘climate-washing’ cases making it to court increased annually, totalling 47 in 2023, compared with just 26 in 2022. ‘Climate-washing’ cases include those 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. Between 2016 and 2023, over 140 climate-washing cases have been reviewed with more than half reaching official decisions. Of these 77 settled cases, 54 have been called in favour of the claimant.

Other areas of litigation are also on the rise. For example, ‘polluter pays’ litigation, of which there are currently more than 30 cases worldwide. These claims seek to hold companies accountable for any climate-related harm caused by their alleged contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. Further, most climate cases continue to be filed against governments, though there is a growing movement towards cases targeting corporations. The region responsible for the largest number of climate litigation cases remains the US (129 new cases in 2023), where just 15% of cases were filed against companies in 2023, compared with 40% for the rest of the world.

ESG backlash observed in non-climate goal-aligned cases

The report confirms that in 2023 just under 50 litigation cases were not aligned with climate goals, these included backlash against ESG (environmental, social and governance) policies, which challenge the incorporation of climate risk in financial decision-making. In particular the US has seen a number of cases relating to ESG investing activities, for example ‘Spence v. American Airlines: “where the plaintiff accused American Airlines of breaching fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) by prioritising ESG goals over financial returns. In February 2024 a Texas federal court allowed this lawsuit to continue, denying the airline’s motion to dismiss.”[iv]

The report also highlights a second case, ‘Wong v. New York City Employees’ Retirement System’ which involves plaintiffs alleging that “fund managers compromised their fiduciary duties by integrating climate change considerations into their investment decisions, seeking damages for losses attributed to such policies.”[v]

Other non-climate aligned cases included so-termed SLAPP (strategic litigation against public participation) suits against NGOs and shareholder activists that seek to deter them from pursuing climate agendas, as well as just transition cases, which challenge the distributional impacts of climate policy.


[i] Climate litigation against companies is on the rise, report finds   - Grantham Research Institute on climate change and the environment (


[iii] Ibid


[v] Ibid

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Lauren Foye
Head of Reports

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.”

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