The right to a clean environment could have big consequences
Credit: Melody Ayres on unsplash

The right to a clean environment could have big consequences

The Lawyer who defeated Shell predicts an “avalanche” of climate cases

Summary: The Human Rights Council (HRC) recognising the "right to a clean environment" sounds as if it might be something vague, something that investors and companies don't need to be worried about. This may turn out to be a dangerous assumption. This process can seem incredibly slow, but the ability of “injured parties” to take (& win) legal action, often in a different jurisdiction from that in which the damage occurred, is growing and growing fast. The well regarded Grantham Institute wrote an interesting piece on the growth in climate litigation (2021 snapshot) earlier in the year.

Why this is important: This is just the latest step along the path to not just recognising certain fundamental human rights but to also start entrenching these in our legal system. Polluting, and not respecting/protecting the environment, could develop into a violation of rights on its own – without proving a direct link to violation of other rights (health, property, living, life etc).

The big theme: Human rights issues are moving up the political and social agenda. And this goes a lot wider than most companies and investors will expect, covering the right to be protected from harm, and for culture and ways of life to be respected. And these rights increasingly have teeth.

The details

Summary of a story published in Financial Times:

Roger Cox, the lawyer who won the landmark case against Royal Dutch Shell, is predicting copycat legal action against other oil majors, companies in other sectors, and ultimately against individual directors. He says " I am expecting an avalanche of cases against the fossil fuel industry and related industries like the car industry". He goes on to say that one of the reasons the judiciary exists "is to bring balance to society and to protect us from human rights violations from our governments and other large entities".

His first climate victory was a case brought on behalf of the environmental nonprofit Urgenda. In a landmark ruling the Dutch court ordered the state to cut its CO2 emissions by 25% from 1990 levels before 2021. The case hinged on the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Let's look at why this is important...

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