Plaintiffs filing lawsuits against fossil fuel companies and governments for causing climate change and failing to protect people from its impacts have been fighting with a proverbial hand tied behind their backs, a new study published in Nature Climate Change on Monday found. The study said lawyers in climate litigation have so far failed to rely on the most current climate science that most clearly draws links between greenhouse gas emissions and specific weather events made more damaging because of climate change caused by those emissions. Attribution science, the field of climate change detection that emerged in the 1990s, has in recent years matured to be able to finely pinpoint the role human-caused climate change plays in individual extreme weather events, such as how much more rain fell during a particular tropical storm, or how much longer and hotter a heat wave was, than would have been expected to occur without the exacerbating effects of global warming.
The Nature Climate Change study examined 73 lawsuits between 1986 and May 2020, finding a majority made no attempt to use quantitative evidence to prove how much climate change worsened the impacts of climate change-related events from which plaintiffs were claiming harm, and nearly three-quarters of cases failed to provide peer-reviewed evidence linking those events to fossil fuel emissions. The study’s authors concluded, therefore, it was little surprise many of these cases have failed to secure victories in court or compensatory relief. “If litigation seeking compensation for losses suffered due to climate change is to have the best chance of success, lawyers must make more effective use of scientific evidence,” lead author Rupert Stuart-Smith said. “Climate science can answer questions raised by the courts in past cases and overcome hurdles to the success of these lawsuits.” (Phys.org, Axios, BBC, Carbon Brief, The Guardian, E&E $; Study: Nature Climate Change)