29 - Climate litigation: shaping public policy and stimulating debate  pp. 462-474

Climate litigation: shaping public policy and stimulating debate

By Marilyn Averill

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Introduction

Advocates interested in climate policy are turning to the courts to try to force action on issues relating to human-induced climate change. Climate litigation involves elements of law, science, policy, and ethics in addressing claims relating to global warming. Applying a variety of legal theories, litigants are using climate litigation to clarify existing law, challenge corporate behavior, assign responsibility, and seek damages for climate-related injuries. These cases rely heavily on expert scientific testimony and are likely to affect perceptions about the credibility, salience, and legitimaczy of climate science. They also are likely to encourage public debate and to stimulate political advocacy.

Many of these lawsuits have been filed in the United States, where litigation is widely used to resolve environmental disputes, but these cases have both national and international implications. Climate litigation can help shape US policy relating to climate change, both directly and indirectly; explain specific issues relating to climate change; provide guidelines for establishing causation and assigning responsibility for climate-related injuries; and affect perceptions about climate science that may influence policies and legal decisions beyond the borders of the United States.

Many of these cases are likely to be unsuccessful from the point of view of those hoping for greater action on climate change. Even an unsuccessful case, however, can make climate change more visible to a range of audiences by raising awareness, educating the public, and stimulating public debate on issues relating to climate change.

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