International youth file climate change lawsuits

Six Portuguese young people have filed a legal complaint at the European Court of Human Rights  (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France, accusing 33 countries of violating their right to a secure future by failing to take action to mitigate the climate crisis. The youths aged 12 through 21, represented by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), are targetting countries whose policies on carbon emission reduction they say are too weak to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal of the Paris Agreement, citing the country ratings of the Climate Action Tracker. Named in the suit are the 27 European Union member states, as well as the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.

Their complaint comes after lethal wildfires in Portugal in 2017 killed more than 120 people. Researchers have linked the intensity of the 2017 fires to global warming. The case is also being filed after Portugal recorded its hottest July in the last 90 years.

"I am afraid for my future," petitioner Catarina Mota, 20, told reporters during a virtual press conference from her home in Leiria, in central Portugal. "I live with the feeling that every year my home becomes a more hostile place. If I have children, what kind of world shall I bring them up in? These are real concerns that I have every day... After the 2017 fires we realized that we must change and urgently stop climate change." (Climate Home News, DW)

A similar legal action has been launched by a group of youth in Australia, seeking an injunction to stop approval of a license extension at Whitehaven Coal's Vickery mine in New South Wales, arguing that it would threaten the futures of young people all over the world by exacerbating climate change. Izzy Raj-Seppings, 13, lead plaintiff in the case, filed the injunction along with seven other young people aged 13 to 17—many of whom met during the School Strike 4 Climate protests. The Sydney high school student made headlines last year when police ordered her to move on after holding a protest outside the prime minister's Kirribilli residence. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Australia has also repeatedly been devastated by wildfires in recent years. 

Numerous lawsuits over climate change are pending from California to Peru.

Increased warming closing in on Paris Accord limit

The Earth is getting closer to passing a temperature limit set by global leaders five years ago and may exceed it in the next decade or so, according to a new United Nations report.

In the next five years, the planet has nearly a 1-in-4 chance of experiencing a year hot enough to put the global temperature at 2.7 degrees (1.5 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial times, according to a new science update released by the World Meteorological Organization and other global science groups. (AP)

This is in line with findings of a recent NASA study.

Rio Tinto chief to quit over Aboriginal cave destruction

The CEO of Rio Tinto, Jean-Sebastien Jacques, will step down following criticism of the mining giant's destruction of sacred Aboriginal sites. In May, the world's biggest iron ore miner destroyed two ancient caves in Pilbara, Western Australia. The company went ahead with blowing up the Juukan Gorge rock shelters over the protests of Aboriginal traditional owners. It has sparked widespread condemnation from shareholders and the public.

Artefacts found at the caves include a 28,000-year-old animal bone tool and a 4,000-year-old belt made of plaited human hair. DNA testing had directly linked it to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people—the traditional owners of the land. After the caves were destroyed, a PKKP representative, John Ashburton, said losing the site was a "devastating blow." (BBC News)

Hague court hears climate case against Royal Dutch Shell

The District Court of The Hague began hearings against Royal Dutch Shell in a case brought by 17,379 co-plaintiffs and seven Dutch climate activist groups.

The co-plaintiffs, led by Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie), are demanding that Shell reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030 compared to 2010 levels, and to net-zero by 2050. They claim that Shell knowingly contributes to climate change by continuing to expand its fossil fuel operations with little to no investment in renewable energy. Invoking article 6:162 of the Dutch Civil Code, the plaintiffs allege that Shell has breached its duty of care and unlawfully endangered the Dutch people. In addition, they allege that Shell has violated articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), namely the rights to life and respect for family life.

The case relies in part on a 2019 decision of the Netherlands Supreme Court, in which the government was ordered to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. While the court was able to enforce ECHR obligations against the State, it unclear whether the same can be done against a company. (Jurist)

Europe rights court rejects challenge to climate change case

The European Court of Human Rights dismissed an attempt by 33 defendant governments to challenge the accelerated status of a climate change case brought against them by six Portuguese youth activists. The activists claim that the countries signed the 2015 Paris Agreement but have failed to "comply with their commitments in order to limit climate change" after Portugal experienced its highest July temperatures in 90 years. Due to the "urgency" of the matter, the court granted the case a rare priority status in November. (Jurist)

Germany top court rules climate change law is insufficient

Germany's Federal Constitutional Court held April 29 that several provisions in the country’s Federal Climate Change Act of 2019 are insufficient and violate freedoms in the Basic Law. The court described the idea of climate change having severe impacts that affect virtually all aspects of human life.

The case started in 2019 when farming families from the North Sea Island sued the government after a series of unexpected hot summers followed by rising sea levels plagued the Northern parts of Germany. The family alleged that the country’s government was failing to act on climate change. The proceedings were backed by Greenpeace and activist Greta Thunberg.

The court agreed with the plaintiffs and stated that the obligations the Federal Climate Change Act creates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030 is insufficient. The provisions also neglect to create emissions reduction responsibilities after 2030. According to the court, "one generation must not be allowed to consume large portions of the CO2 budget while bearing a relatively minor share of the reduction effort if this would involve leaving subsequent generations with a drastic reduction burden and expose their lives to comprehensive losses of freedom."

The inaction violates Article 20a of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz – GG) which provides for environmental protection for all German citizens. The court stated that legislators must enact stricter provisions to achieve climate neutrality by December 31, 2022. (Jurist)

Dutch court orders Shell cut carbon emissions

Climate change activists have won a big legal victory against oil giant Royal Dutch Shell. A Dutch court ruled May 26 that the company must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030, based on 2019 levels. The 2030 goal affirmed by the court is more ambitious than Shell's target of becoming "a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050." Shell argues the 2050 goal is in line with the Paris climate accord. But the Hague District Court determined Shell's plans were not adequate. (NPR)

Exxon, Chevron suffer stunning shareholder backlash

US oil giants ExxonMobil and Chevron on May 26 suffered shareholder backlash from activists and institutional investors over their failure to set viable emissions reduction strategies. The New York Times writes that "analysts could not recall another time that Exxon management had lost a vote against company-picked directors."

Hedge fund activists Engine No. 1 successfully replaced two Exxon board members with its own candidates, and a vote on a third, Alexander Karsner, a senior strategist at X, is "not yet determined."

Over at Chevron, a majority of shareholders voted 61% in favor of a proposal from Dutch campaign group Follow This to force the oil giant to cut its scope 3 emissions – the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting organization, but that the organization indirectly impacts in its value chain. (Electrek)

Australia court: duty to protect youth from climate change

The federal court of Australia found the environment minister, Sussan Ley, has a duty of care to protect young people from the climate crisis in a judgment hailed by lawyers and teenagers who brought the case as a world first.

Eight teenagers and an octogenarian nun had sought an injunction to prevent Ley approving a proposal by Whitehaven Coal to expand the Vickery coalmine in New South Wales, arguing the minister had a common-law duty of care to protect younger people against future harm from climate change. (The Guardian)