Climate change and human rights-based strategic litigation

The recent ‘rights turn’ in climate change litigation is a trend set to continue
Chatham House briefing Updated 22 November 2021 Published 11 November 2021 ISBN: 978 1 78413 504 1
Greta Thunberg speaking at a press conference given by 16 youth climate activists in New York on 23 September 2019

Dr Kumaravadivel Guruparan

Former Research Fellow, International Law Programme

Human rights-based climate change litigation is a fast-growing trend: between 2015 and mid-2020, 40 such cases were brought before national courts and international bodies. An increasing proportion of cases are being brought by young people on behalf of future generations.

This briefing paper cites a number of prominent, recent examples to show how activists are challenging not just inaction on climate change, but also governments’ failure to honour existing commitments and climate change strategies that themselves contribute to human rights violations.

The trend is likely to continue, as governments and corporations come under greater pressure to do their ‘fair share’ to mitigate climate change. Human rights law will increasingly be invoked in court as part of efforts to hold them to account for the impact of climate change on the fundamental rights of citizens past, present and future.