Global Climate Litigation

Following the success in the Urgenda Climate Case, citizens around the world are taking their governments to court over their insufficient climate policies.  


On 23 October 2017, Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) launched a legal challenge against the Government’s failure to take the required action to avert dangerous climate change. FIE claims that the Irish National Mitigation Plan—one of the main planks in the Government’s climate change policy—does not do enough to reduce Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions and is a violation of Ireland’s Climate Act, the Irish Constitution and human rights obligations. FIE also claims that the Plan falls short of the steps required by the Paris Agreement on climate change. The High Court of Ireland has given permission to proceed with the lawsuit. The case is expected to be heard in 2018. More information on the case can be found here.

New Zealand

In November 2015, the New Zealand law student Sarah Thomson took her government to court for its insufficient climate ambitions. The case was heard in court between 26 and 28 June 2017. On 2 November 2017, the High Court in Wellington issued its ruling. The Court held that climate change presents significant global risks and that the government is legally accountable for its actions to address climate change. The Court determined that the New Zealand Minister for Climate Change had acted unlawfully by failing to review the country’s climate change targets for 2050 after the publication of most recent IPCC Assessment Report. The Court refrained from issuing an order against the government, as the newly elected government took up office in October 2017 and committed itself to a target of CO2-neutrality in 2050. Thomson is considering appealing the judgment. More information on the case is available here. You can download the statement of claim and the judgement of the court here and here.


On 26 May 2017, a group of senior Swiss women (the Klimaseniorinnen, Senior Women for Climate Protection) filed a legal complaint against the Federation of Swiss cantons as well as several individual cantons in the Federal Administrative Court. The complaint asserts that the Government’s climate policies are unlawful and violate constitutional and human rights because they fail to limit warming to the politically agreed ‘safe level’. The senior women demand an immediate increase in the ambition of national mitigation targets for 2020 and 2030. More information on the case can be found here. A German and English version of the complaint can be found here and here.

United States

In 2015, 21 young people filed a climate change claim against the U.S. government in the District Court of Oregon. In the case, also known as Youth v. Trump, the young Americans claim that for decades their government has actively contributed to causing climate change and that in doing so it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.

In 2016 the Youth survived an attempt by the government and fossil fuel industry to have the case been thrown out of court at an early stage. In a landmark opinion and order (10 November 2016) the federal district court of Oregon held that “the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society”. The Trump administration has continued to use extraordinary measures to prevent the case from being heard, thus far unsuccessfully. More information on the case can be found here.


In 2014, 11 concerned Belgian citizens united to challenge their governments’ inadequate climate policies in court. On 1 June 2015 association Klimaatzaak (Climate Case) filed their statement of claim to the court. Since the start of the case more than 34,000 Belgians joined in the call for more ambitious climate policies and added their names as co-plaintiffs.

One of the regional governments (Flanders) addressed in the case has challenged the decision of the Klimaatzaak to file the case in French, effectively blocking the case from being heard on the merits. A final decision by the Belgian Supreme Court on the language issue is expected in the first half of 2018. More information on the case is available here.


On 22 March 2017, nine-year-old Ridhima Pandey filed a petition against the government of India in the National Green Tribunal. Pandey asserts that the Indian government has failed to fulfill its duties to her and the Indian people to mitigate climate change, as it falls short of meeting the emission reduction policies and standards it has set for itself.

In her petition, Pandey asks the Tribunal to order the government of India to prepare a carbon budget and national climate recovery plan in accordance with international agreements and scientific consensus. The petition filed by Pandey is available here.


On 30 March 2015 the Oslo Principles on Global Climate Change Obligations were launched, formulated by an international group of eminent jurists, including High Court judges, law professors and advocates from countries such as Brazil, China, India, the US and the Netherlands. The Oslo principles hold that regardless of the existence of international agreements, governments already have a legal obligation to avert the harmful effects of climate change, based on existing international human rights law, environmental law and tort law.

The Oslo group endorses the arguments that Urgenda brings forward in its climate case and also provides support to initiatives in other countries to involve the courts in their efforts to contain climate change.

On April 8, Dutch daily newspaper Trouw published an extensive interview with Jaap Spier, Advocate-General to the Dutch Supreme Court, concerning the Oslo Principles and the Urgenda climate case. According to Spier, ‘Courts can force countries to adopt effective climate policies. Court cases are perhaps the only way to break through the political apathy about climate change.’
From the article: Does a judge need to be an activist in order to make a statement about climate change? “No”, says Spier, “it is just a matter of applying existing law, although undoubtedly not all judges will be open to this. Judges with the courage to give a ruling on this will one day be applauded, whereas those who don’t will eventually be tarred and feathered.”

An informal translation of the interview can be downloaded here. The Guardian published this piece on the Oslo principles by two legal experts.