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Climate Change on Trial

“There is no planet B”, this was one of the many slogans during the 10th March protest against climate change in Amsterdam. An estimate of 40,000 people turned out for the protest, demanding the Dutch government take stronger action against global warming.


There is an ongoing emergence of protests in all corners of the world. Especially, teenage environmentalists mobilizations that are taking place across Europe, thousands of teens have skipped classes to claim for legal action to protect their future from climate-change disasters. Public pursue to hold companies and governments accountable for the damage. Under the pressure of the demand for action, litigation appears as the new front line to address the environmental effects of pollution.


Legal institutions and instruments embody an important part in the adaptation and coping with climate change. Litigation has the potential to implement technological, managerial and behavioural strategies that are able to reshape the scheme of energy production, for example. Furthermore, laws can facilitate the process to adopt the climate change factor into legal procedures, the use of regulation to diminish exposure to temperature hazards, the establishment of a legal structure to rule markets. In the status quo, the law can guarantee accountability and address socio-environmental injustice. Nevertheless, law-making and trials face impediments. On one hand, legislation may suffer time inconsistencies, among emissions and impacts. On the other, lawsuits on climate change present long delays, barely a few of them are processed and wins.


In 2015, together with 900 citizens the Urgenda Foundation brought the Dutch Government to court and won. Urgenda compelled the Dutch state to reduce its emissions by no less than 25% by 2020. The foundation created the Climate Litigation Network to support climate cases globally. Following the success of this Climate Case, governments and companies of oil and gas are seen involved in legal disputes with groups and individuals over the insufficient policies and industries as a paramount factor in global warming.


Inspired by the Urgenda case, a new legal approach in battling climate change is taking place which could be the first lawsuit to directly challenge the business model of an oil company. Environmental groups like Milieudefensie and Friends of the Earth Netherlands are prepared for a lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell, if the giant fails to align its business model with the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement.


According to the organizations, Shell is among the top 100 fossil fuel producers. These are collectively responsible for over 70% of greenhouse gas emission since the ’80s. Milieudefensie points out that Shell produces twice as much carbon pollution as the rest of the Netherlands combined. Annually, Shell continues investing billions of dollars in new oil exploration.


On next Tuesday 19th of February, Room for Discussion will host an interview on climate change and the law. It will be discussed how climate change is setting new challenges for legal systems, policy-making, and how it is being addressed in courtrooms. For which, Room for Discussion will have the honour of dialogue with Dr. Joyeeta Gupta, an expert on climate change policy, co-chair of UN Environment’s Global Environmental Outlook-6, and Mr. Freek Bersch, spokesperson for Economy at Milieudefensie.

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