Global trends in climate change litigation: 2023 snapshot
This report reviews key global developments in climate change litigation, with a focus on the period May 2022 to May 2023, drawing primarily on the Climate Change Litigation databases maintained by the Sabin Centre for Climate Change Law. It is the fifth edition of our annual report on global trends in climate change litigation. Each report provides a synthesis of the latest research and developments in the climate change litigation field, outlining general trends to date as well as focusing on cases filed in the previous 12 months.
This edition contains an update on case numbers, metrics and categorisations based on those used in previous years’ reports, a thematic review of recent cases, and a discussion of the climate policy areas that are most likely to be subject to legal controversy in the coming months and years.
Key trends, May 2022–May 2023
- 2,341 cases have been captured in the Sabin Center’s climate change litigation databases, 190 of which were filed in the last 12 months. The growth rate in cases appears to be slowing but diversity in cases is still expanding.
- Climate change litigation has now been additionally identified in Bulgaria, China, Finland, Romania, Russia, Thailand and Turkey.
- More than 50% of climate cases have direct judicial outcomes that can be understood as favourable to climate action. Climate cases continue to have significant indirect impacts on climate change decision-making beyond the courtroom, too.
- Domestic legal protections (e.g. for the right to a healthy environment) along with domestic climate legislation, play a critical role in cases against governments.
- Litigants are employing recognisable strategies across different jurisdictions. Most recorded cases are ‘climate-aligned’ outcomes but non-climate aligned litigation (e.g. ‘ESG backlash’) is increasing.
- More cases are being filed against corporate actors, with a more complex range of legal arguments. Around 20 cases filed by US cities and states against the Carbon Majors are now likely to go to trial.
- There has been growth in ‘climate-washing’ cases challenging the accuracy of green claims and commitments. Some cases seeking financial damages are also challenging disinformation, with many relying on consumer protection law.
- Challenges to the climate policy response of governments and companies have grown significantly in number outside the US.
- Litigation concerning investment decisions is increasing and can help clarify the parameters within which decisions should be made in the context of climate change.
- High-emitting activities are now more likely to be challenged at different points in their lifecycle, from initial financing to final project approval.
Most recent previous reports in the series: