Global warming and other environmental concerns
Fighting global warming in the courts
Some environmentalists are challenging polluting companies and governments in
the courts. These cases are difficult to prosecute. They rarely win large
settlements. It is difficult to prove a cause and effect relationship between a
single company's pollution and specific damage to the environment or to people's
health. However, they are may be laying the groundwork for what may be major
successes in the future. This is somewhat reminiscent of the early cases against
tobacco companies and asbestos manufacturers. They did not succeed initially,
but have since returned massive settlements. Even if not successful, court cases
keep the matter before the public and result in pressure on politicians.
Court cases have had a more successful track record when they claim that
existing regulations were not being properly enforced by the government.
Peter Roderick, co-director of Climate Justice Program in London, UK,
"Judges are finally starting to accept what scientists have long said:
that greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change and need to be
Eric Posner, a law professor from the University of Chicago wrote a paper
titled "Climate Change and International Human Rights Litigation: A Critical
Appraisal." He said:
"The main purpose of litigation may not be to persuade courts to
determine greenhouse gas emission policy, but to attract public attention
and pressure governments to reach political solutions, including treaties
and domestic law."
The Associated Press reported:
"Hari Osofsky, an assistant professor at the University of Oregon School
of Law, said it's important to remember that such litigation is still in its
early stages, and that most of it is seeking regulatory action, not
||2004: A Victoria state court ruled that the state minister
for planning had violated a law by telling an expert panel to ignore
global warming implications when it investigated a proposal to enlarge a
coal mine. The panel was required to reconsider their decision; the
expansion was later approved.
||2006: A New South Wales court ruled that Centennial Hunter
Proprietary Ltd. had to evaluate all possible effects of greenhouse
emission from the mining operation at Anvil Hill Project mine to the
final use by the customer. Again, the project was approved.
||2007: A second case involving Anvil Hill Project mine is
currently appealing a government decision that the mine does not come
under the jurisdiction of Australia's Environment Protection and
Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999. That act is intended to protect
world heritage sites, such as the Great Barrier Reef and native species
of plants and animals.
||2007: Canada signed the Kyoto Accord but successive Liberal
and Conservative governments have largely ignored their obligations. The
country has fallen far short of its mandatory maximum CO2
emission levels. Friends of the Earth Canada have initiated a
lawsuit claiming that the federal government has violating Canadian law
||United States: All efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emission in
the U.S. are of great importance because the U.S. and China are the largest
polluters in the world.|
||2006: The state of California is
suing Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota,
claiming that their vehicles are contributing to global warming. They
allege that their vehicles belch 318 million tons (289 metric tonnes) of
CO2 each year into the
atmosphere. They claim that this damages the coast line, water supply,
and increases maintenance costs.
||2007: By its usual 5 to 4 vote, the U.S.
Supreme Court ruled on its first global warming case. On APR-02 they determined
that greenhouse gasses from motor vehicles are an air pollutant. They told the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its 2003 refusal to regulate
CO2 and other emissions from new cars and trucks.
Martha Coakley, Attorney General of Massachusetts said: "As a result of today's
landmark ruling, EPA can no longer hide behind the fiction that it lacks any
regulatory authority to address the problem of global warming." The block of
four strict constructionist judges -- Chief Justice
John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Scalia, and Thomas -- all dissented.
||2007: Eight states -- California, Connecticut,
Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin -- have
jointed New York City in a joint lawsuit against five large power companies.
The plaintiffs charge that carbon dioxide from electric generating plants is
contributing to global warming. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said: "Global
warming is an important issue for our country, for our state and for our
world. It can have enormous consequences.'' Miller claims that
power plants owned by the defendants -- American Power Company, The Southern
Company, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Xcel Energy, and Cinergy
Corporation -- generate over 650 million tons of CO2
yearly. This is about 25% of the total released by America's power plants.
He said that power plants account for 40 percent of the country's total
carbon dioxide emissions. The plaintiffs are asking for a federal court
order that would require the companies to reduce emissions by 1 to 3% each
||2007: A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the state of
California. It claimed that the car emissions were responsible for a
significant part of global warming. This is causing increased flooding and
other disasters. This forces the state to spend millions of dollars on
repairs. California sued Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and the U.S.
subsidiaries of Honda, Nissan and Toyota.
The judge ruled that it is impossible for the court to determine to what
extent carmakers were responsible for global warming and the damages that it
causes. Other industries, animals and other natural sources are responsible
for part of the problem. 4
||2007: Eleven states and several environmental groups are
attempting to force the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration to recompute its vehicle mileage standards, and to
include CO2 emissions in the calculations.
||An group representing 155,000 Inuits living in Arctic regions in
Canada, Alaska, Russia and Greenland presented a petition to the
34-nation Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. They claim
that CO2 emissions within
the United States are a major cause of global warming, and that this
should be considered a human-rights violation. Eric Posner of the
University of Chicago said:
"If a plausible claim can be made that the emission of
greenhouse gases violates human rights, and that these human rights
are embodied in treaty or customary international law, then American
courts may award damages to the victims." 1
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Thomas Wagner, "Battle over climate change is being fought
in world's courts," The Associated Press, 2007-SEP-22, at:
James Vicini, "Court rules against Bush in global warming case," Reuters,
Todd Dorman, "Iowa joins lawsuit battling global warming," Quad-City Times,
Paul Elias, "Judge tosses Calif global warming suit," Quad-City Times,
Copyright © 2007 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally written: 2007-SEP-27
Latest update: 2007-SEP-27
Author: B.A. Robinson