A Win For The Climate Evinces Legal And Policy Risks

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A Win For The Climate Evinces Legal And Policy Risks

In August 2023, a judge ruled in favor of 16 youths who sued the state of Montana arguing that the state’s laws supporting the fossil fuel industry violate their constitutional right to a “clean and healthful environment”. In June, we wrote that this case – the first constitutional climate suit to go to trial in the US – is part of a global acceleration in climate lawsuits. It demonstrates the growing importance of understanding and addressing policy and litigation risks. Although changes in Montana may still be far off – the attorney general plans to appeal the decision, and any amendments to the laws will take time – the ruling in this case is a sign that change is underway.

As climate activists celebrate the outcome in Montana, organizations must anticipate emerging policy and litigation risks. Our Children’s Trust – the organization that represented the plaintiffs in Held v. Montana – has multiple pending climate cases and legal actions at the federal and state level in the US, as well as in Canada, India, Mexico, Pakistan and Uganda.

Recent analysis shows that public and private sector actors across the globe face lawsuits addressing a wide range of topics, such as lack of policy ambition, inadequate plans and targets, ‘climate-washing’, failure to adapt, climate impacts of new projects and compensation for climate related loss and damage. The Held v. Montana decision is likely to energize this fast-growing climate litigation movement. The win confirms that legal risks will not disappear until organizations take meaningful action to address climate change.

Emma Cutler

Senior Analyst

Emma is a Senior Analyst in the Verdantix Net Zero & Climate Risk research practice. Her current research agenda focuses on climate risk and resilience. She has a background in simulation and statistical modelling applied to climate adaptation, coastal management, and international development. She holds a PhD in systems engineering from Dartmouth College and a BA from Bowdoin College.