New figures show rise in ‘climate-washing’ litigation against companies    

Posted on 29 Jun 2023 in

‘Climate-washing’ litigation against companies has increased in many countries, according to an analysis published today (29 June 2023) by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The report ‘Global trends in climate change litigation: 2023 snapshot’ shows that 26 ‘climate-washing’ cases were filed in 2022, compared with fewer than 10 in 2020.

These cases cover various types of misinformation, including challenges to corporate climate commitments, claims about product attributes, overstated investments or support for climate action, and failure to disclose climate risks.

The authors of the report, Dr Joana Setzer and Kate Higham, state: “Cases concerned with mis- and disinformation on climate change are far from new, but the last few years have seen an explosion of ‘climate-washing’ cases filed before both courts and administrative bodies such as consumer protection agencies”.

“One of the most significant groups of climate-washing cases to emerge in recent years have been cases challenging the truthfulness of corporate climate commitments, particularly where these are not backed up by adequate plans and policies.”

They add: “The growth in climate-washing cases reflects broader concerns with corporate accountability for climate pledges along with ongoing debates about the role of companies in climate decision-making”.

Overall the report shows that there was a peak in 2021 new climate litigation, with 266 cases filed. Although only 222 new cases were filed in 2022, the authors caution that it is not yet clear that it marks the start of a downward trend.

They point out that the filing of new climate litigation cases in the United States peaked in 2020 during the final year of Donald Trump’s Presidency.

The analysis was based on information about 2,341 climate litigation cases contained in a database compiled by the Sabin Centre for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. Of these cases, 1,157 have been filed since 2015.

The United States continues to be the country with the highest number of documented climate litigation cases, with 1,590 in total. Next is Australia, where 130 cases have been identified, and the United Kingdom, with 102. 67 cases have been filed before the Court of Justice of the European Union. Relatively high numbers of cases have also been documented in Germany (59), Brazil (40), and Canada (35).

The report found that “more than 50% of climate cases have direct judicial outcomes that can be understood as favourable to climate action and in some cases these have led to well documented changes in policy”.

The authors also draw attention to potential future trends, with increasing litigation focused on biodiversity, cases addressing the duties of governments and corporations to protect the ocean, extreme weather events where climate change may not be the central focus, cases concerning short-lived climate pollutants and international litigation between states.