Story | 19 Jan, 2022

A Climate Law Primer: Forthcoming Book Offers Guidance for Judges

More than ever before, communities and individuals are bringing lawsuits against corporations and governments for inadequate action on climate change. Now, a team of legal experts is writing a book to help judges around the world navigate this new legal territory.

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2021 was another year of record-breaking climate extremes. As the threats climate change poses to health, national security, human rights, and overall wellbeing become ever more apparent, many governments have continued to postpone major action to mitigate and prevent these consequences.

Increasingly, people around the world are bringing lawsuits against their governments and major corporations for failing to take swift and sufficient action on climate. In fact, over 1,000 new climate lawsuits have been filed globally since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2016.

Some lawsuits have achieved precedent-setting victories, like the Urgenda Foundation’s suit against the Dutch government, the organisation Milieudefensie’s suit against the Shell corporation, and Greenpeace Southeast Asia and others’ suit against the world’s 30 most polluting companies (the so-called Carbon Majors.) But despite the rise in climate lawsuits and success of key cases, there is currently no resource dedicated to helping judges navigate the new legal challenges presented by the ever-expanding field of climate litigation.

With their new book Judicial Handbook on Climate Litigation, lawyers and legal scholars Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh and Sarah Mead are filling that gap, in close collaboration with other leading experts in the field. The Handbook is a project of IUCN’s World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL) Climate Change Law Specialist Group (CCLSG), which is a global network of lawyers, judges, scholars, and other professionals who advise the IUCN, its members, and the WCEL on legal strategies to address climate change worldwide.

CCLSG’s handbook intends to be a free, thorough, and authoritative manual for judges tasked with deciding climate lawsuits. While improving climate change literacy among judges, the book will also be an informative resource for individuals considering bringing climate lawsuits and form a foundation for future legal scholarship in the climate law field. 

Unlike  existing reports, books, and articles, the Handbook takes an empirical, issue-by-issue approach, based on a survey of hundreds of notable climate change lawsuits originating in over 25 different jurisdictions. CCLSG’s Judicial Handbook on Climate Litigation will be composed of 15 chapters, each covering a key issue in contemporary climate litigation. Topics include causation, public trust, state responsibility, the rights of nature, and others, and each chapter will be written by an authority with experience in the subject area.

The global reach of CCLSG and the cross-jurisdictional scope of the Handbook will allow it to serve as a reference guide for lawyers, practitioners and scholars around the world. As the international legal community continues to rise to the legal challenges posed by climate change, the forthcoming Judicial Handbook on Climate Litigation will help ensure that issues are resolved consistently and in accordance with emerging best practices.

About the Authors:

Margaretha Wewerinke-SinghPhoto: Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh
Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh is an Assistant Professor of Public International Law at the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies (Leiden University) and Senior Lecturer in Environmental Law at the Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (University of the South Pacific). She has more than 15 years’ experience working with international and non-governmental organisations, think tanks and governments and is the author (or co-author) of numerous publications, including books and articles, on a wide range of topics related to climate change, human rights and sustainable development. She currently serves as the Deputy Regional Director for Europe of the Global Network on Human Rights and the Environment and practices at Blue Ocean Law, a boutique international law firm specialising in human rights and environmental justice.

Sarah MeadPhoto: Sarah Mead
Sarah Mead is a Legal Associate at the Urgenda Foundation’s Climate Litigation Network, which is an international project of the Urgenda Foundation which brought the ground-breaking climate change litigation against the Dutch State. She is co-editor of the forthcoming collection The Environment through the Lens of International Courts and Tribunals (Asser Press) and has published widely on topics relating to international environmental law, climate change law and policy, and small-island states. She earned an Advanced LL.M in Public International Law from Leiden University, and an LLB/BA from Victoria University of Wellington.