Factbox: New Fronts in Climate Change Legal Battles

Factbox: New Fronts in Climate Change Legal Battles

Nov 18 (Reuters) – Litigation over climate change has more than doubled in the past seven years globally, according to a June report from the London School of Economics, and is reaching beyond traditionally polluting industries such as production of fossil fuels.

At the COP27 climate talks in Egypt, UN experts warned last week that many corporate environmental claims amounted to “empty slogans and hype”. This could encourage activists to launch more lawsuits against climate action laggards.

Meanwhile, litigation against Big Oil continues apace, with climate activists winning a notable victory on the global stage in 2021 when a Dutch court ordered Royal Dutch Shell to drastically cut emissions. Across the United States, cities and states are staying on track in early efforts to bring Exxon, BP and others to justice in hopes they can get the companies to help pay for the measures. climate adaptation such as dykes and energy efficiency improvements. Oil companies say they cannot be held responsible for a global phenomenon like climate change and that policy change should come from governments, not the courts.

Below is an overview of some of the new targets of climate litigation.


Companies that manufacture and market plastics derived from fossil fuels have defended themselves against a growing number of cases around the world focused on waste from the ubiquitous packaging material.

In July, a U.S. federal judge in California granted preliminary approval for a $10 million settlement after U.S. single-serve coffee company Keurig was sued by consumers who accused it of improperly marketing its K- Cups as recyclable, although they are not found in many localities. Keurig has denied wrongdoing and liability.

Another lawsuit, filed in California state court in 2020 by US environmental group Earth Island Institute against Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestlé and several other global consumer goods companies, seeks to hold those companies accountable for their alleged contributions to plastic pollution. The lawsuit raises claims of public nuisance, breach of warranty and negligence.

The companies have denied the allegations in the lawsuits but have made public promises to work to prevent plastic pollution. In January, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and other international brands called for a global pact to tackle plastic pollution, including reducing plastic production.

Internationally, climate activists have targeted plastics makers by challenging government building permits for facilities that produce plastics. A lawsuit announced this year by London-based environmental law firm ClientEarth and other nonprofits is trying to kill a $3.1 billion facility proposed by British petrochemical giant Ineos in Belgium that would produce oil. ethylene as a plastic raw material, claiming that the Flemish government’s approvals did not take into account the environmental impact of the plant. The facility would convert fractured shale gas into a chemical, a key ingredient for durable, “single-use” plastics, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

An Ineos spokesman said the plant would be “one of the key building blocks of the chemicals that go into a wide range of products essential to everyday life”.


Climate activists have also targeted the food industry, saying companies exaggerate how climate-friendly their products are.

Swedish company Oatly, which advertises its oat-based milk alternative as the result of a less water-intensive process than traditional dairy milk, was hit with three lawsuits in 2021 by investors who claimed before the U.S. federal court in New York the claims amount to “greenwashing,” in which a company touts its operations as being more environmentally sustainable than they are. A spokesperson for Oatly declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.

In Denmark, the European Union’s largest pork producer, Danish Crown, faced a lawsuit last year alleging the company is misrepresenting its climate footprint through marketing claiming its production is “more climate friendly than you think”. a request for comment, but pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030.

A lawsuit brought by indigenous groups in France claims that the French supermarket chain Casino has systematically violated human rights and environmental laws by selling beef linked to land grabbing and deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. The lawsuit claims the company violates a 2017 “duty of vigilance” law in France that requires companies to avoid human rights and environmental abuses in supply chains. The company said it has a strict policy setting out criteria that suppliers must meet, including “zero deforestation in the Amazon” and no slavery-like working conditions.


The world’s financial giants are facing complaints from consumers who claim they are failing to reduce environmental damage and misrepresent certain investments as environmentally friendly.

A group of environmental nonprofits announced in October that they had initiated legal proceedings in France against BNP Paribas, which the nonprofits called “Europe’s biggest financier of fossil fuel expansion”. The group says fossil fuel investments violate France’s duty of vigilance law requiring companies to identify and reduce environmental damage. The group, led by Oxfam France and Friends of the Earth France, called the decision “an unprecedented legal action”. BNP Paribas did not respond to a request for comment.

In October, a German consumer group sued DWS, the asset management unit of Deutsche Bank, alleging it misrepresented a fund’s green credentials in its marketing materials. The lawsuit claims that DWS has told investors it invests 0% in controversial sectors such as coal, but elsewhere coal industry earnings make up to 15% of the fund’s earnings. DWS has repeatedly denied misleading investors.

Reporting by Clark Mindock; Editing by David Gregorio

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