September 29, 2010


While the final outcome of the international negotiation on climate change is still being debated and anticipated, the impacts have started affecting millions of people in developing and least developed countries and extremely vulnerable countries. The government of Tuvalu is looking to settle its entire population to save them from submergence due to impacts of climate change. It is also contemplating legal action against Australia and other developed countries to claim compensation. Even in the developing countries, the change in precipitation patterns and increased frequency of extreme climatic events is severely affecting a range of rights of people including the right to life, for which there does seem to be absolutely no responsibility on the part of the state or the international community. The UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol which are the main architecture of climate change law, does not provide any binding commitments on part of developed countries or developing countries to protect their populations from impacts of climate change. There is absolute dearth of legal entitlements even in the national and domestic legal framework of countries. This forms the major handicap in taking up legal action against the state of developed countries making them own the impacts of climate change.

However, despite the minimal legal framework there is an increasing number of actions in the realm of climate change being brought in courts of different countries against the national governments or foreign governments and even against non state actors. These legal actions are aimed at compelling the national governments to reduce GHG emissions; they are also seeking to hold state, foreign country and non state actors liable for the impacts, nuisance and negligence and rights violations. While in one large case victims of hurricane Katrina have brought action against oil and coal companies and chemical manufacturers for exacerbating climate change impacts, in Mss. vs. EPA a US Court admitted an action against the EPA and ruled that “harms associated with climate change are well recognized” and “causal connection between manmade GHGs and global warming” (Massachusetts, et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al). In Canada, Friends of the Earth Canada has launched a landmark lawsuit against the Government of Canada for abandoning its international commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. Filed in Federal Court in Ottawa by Canada’s foremost environmental law organization, Sierra Legal, the lawsuit alleges that the federal government is violating Canadian law by failing to meet its binding international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In Argentina, after the 2003 Santa Fe floods in Argentina which killed many people and caused millions of dollars of damage, citizens have successfully used Article 6 of the UN Framework Convention on Clima te Change to reveal official failure to adapt to climate change. The legal action has so far revealed that infrastructure changes needed to protect people had been drawn up but not acted upon by the authorities (Stuart M. Feinblatt and Monique Cofer, New Jersey Law Journal, March 13, 2007). In Nigeria, Communities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria are suing the Nigerian Government and multinational oil companies (Shell, Exxon, Agip, Chevron and Total) over the continuous flaring of gas for over 40 years.

It is estimated that more than 250 cases related to climate change and global warming are lying in different courts in the US. While there are still obstacles of causation and attribution in bringing legal action against the state; the increasing number of legal actions show that there are a number of provisions which can be invoked against the state to bring an end to its inaction on climate change, identify climate cange as a policy imperative and take initiatives to address violations of rights due to climate change impacts.


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