Climate Change Litigation in Europe: Increasing Judicial Scrutiny Over State Climate Policies

July 16, 2021

In recent years, several initiatives throughout Europe have challenged governmental policies on climate change.

Beginning with the landmark cases of Urgenda in the Netherlands and Friends of the Environment in Ireland, plaintiffs and strategic litigators have gained momentum in compelling governments to implement more ambitious climate legislation to ensure compliance with the Paris Agreement.

Most recently, Germany’s Constitutional Court found a national climate law to be partially unconstitutional, a Belgian court held national authorities liable for negligent climate policy, and France’s highest administrative court ordered the government to take additional measures to reduce greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions by 40% by 2030.

Plaintiffs have generally relied on tort law and/or fundamental rights to underpin judicial challenges against governmental climate policies for being insufficient to limit the global average temperature increase to well below 2°C, as stipulated in the Paris Agreement.  Courts have shown themselves increasingly willing to allow class-action climate lawsuits and hold governments liable for failing to achieve emission reduction targets.

While this memorandum focuses on the developments in Europe, climate-related claims have become a global phenomenon.  They are part of a bigger movement regarding access to justice and strategic litigation to promote environmental, social and governance matters.  Conversely, some claims have challenged State and EU-level climate action for being too strict.

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.