A year ago, a Dutch judge ordered Shell to slash its emissions harder and faster than planned. Victorious campaigners and lawyers declared the win would straighten up the biggest polluters and serve as a warning to others.
But that hasn’t happened yet. Climate litigation like the kind successfully brought against Shell is a crucial part of the toolkit needed to hold companies and governments accountable for their climate promises and slow global warming. So what’s taking so long?
Part of the problem is the process. Putting together a successful case is incredibly challenging and can take years to conclude — the Shell case itself is still mired in appeals with no end date in sight. Costs can be prohibitive, requiring a team of expensive lawyers well in advance of the first day in court. That means the barrier to entry for nonprofits and individuals is often way too high, especially when taking on the financial might of Big Oil.
Despite the difficulties, there’s been an explosion in the number of climate lawsuits globally. Their number now hovers at nearly 2,000, according to the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. One reason is that governments have adopted more laws tied to climate change as the scientific case to act with urgency has grown stronger. That’s allowed lawyers to bring cases that would have been impossible previously.
More importantly, several years of bold claims by companies making net-zero pledges and setting recycling targets has …